Senate Committee advances Waters of the U.S. rewrite bill

Senate Committee advances Waters of the U.S. rewrite bill

American Farm Bureau concerned about tactics used by EPA to generate support for the Waters of the United States rule

The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works advanced legislation Wednesday that would require a rewrite of the Waters of the U.S. rule released by the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers last month.

The House passed a similar measure, H.R. 1732, the Regulatory Integrity Protection Act in May. Without legislative action, the National Cattlemen's Beef Association pointed out Wednesday, the rule will go in effect by the end of summer.

The rule is opposed by several ag groups, including NCBA, which fear that it will result in more regulations on use of private land and expand the EPA's jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act.

American Farm Bureau concerned about tactics used by EPA to generate support for the Waters of the United States rule (CarbonBrain/Thinkstock)

"No matter what concessions the EPA has claimed, they have added new provisions that greatly expand their authority," Wyoming Senator John Barrasso said during bill markup. "Instead of clarifying the difference between a stream and erosion of the land, the rule defines tributaries to include any place where EPA thinks it sees an ordinary high-water mark; what looks like - not what is - what looks like an ordinary high-water mark."

Senate EPW Committee Chairman Inhofe expressed his concerns over the rule in a letter sent to the EPA.

In the letter, he said according to the Army Corps, 60% of the substantive comments received on the proposed rule opposed the rule. Also, the rule still claims jurisdiction over areas located within a 100-year floodplain.

Related: Waters of the U.S. proposal goes to White House, some details released

"The EPA and Army Corps' have no interest in listening to the concerns and considerations of those closest to the land," said NCBA President Philip Ellis. "The rule puts yet another regulatory burden on the rural economy and private landowners. This bill will ensure that our private lands remain viable and productive, leaving landowners free to undertake stewardship and production decisions without interference by the EPA and the Administration."

Farm Bureau concerned about EPA tactics
In a hearing in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday, American Farm Bureau Federation General Counsel Ellen Steen said the EPA abused and distorted the normal rulemaking process to pre-determine the outcome of the WOTUS rule.

Steen said the notice-and-comment procedure for rulemaking is designed to ensure that agencies take honest account of the thoughts and concerns of the regulated public – but concerns about the rule's effect on ag were "subtly twisted and then dismissed as 'silly' and 'ludicrous' and 'myths,'" she said.

Related: After closer look, groups still leery of EPA's Waters of the U.S. rule

Farm Bureau said the agency used social media tools such as "Thunderclap" to find support from the public, then used petition signatures, emails and postcards from the public to illustrate support for the rule.

"Regardless of whether you supported, opposed, or never heard of that rule, you should shudder to think that this is how controversial regulations will be developed in the age of social media," Steen said.

"Agencies must strive to maintain an open mind throughout the rulemaking process – and to inform rather than indoctrinate and obfuscate – even when policy issues have become controversial and politicized."

Continued reading: Inside EPA's Waters of the U.S. ruling: Part I

Sources: NCBA, AFBF

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