Nebraska Ag Groups Join Forces To Oppose EPA's "Water of the U.S." Rule

LINCOLN, NEB. – Nebraska agriculture organizations have joined forces under the umbrella of 'Common Sense Nebraska', a new coalition formed to push back on EPA's "Waters of the U.S." Rule.

The EPA proposal would vastly expand the federal agency's authorities over farms and ranches. The coalition is working to bring attention and awareness about the proposal through its "#DitchTheRule" campaign.

'Common Sense Nebraska' members include Nebraska Cattlemen, Nebraska Corn Growers Association, Nebraska Farm Bureau Federation, Nebraska Pork Producers Association, Nebraska Poultry Industries, Nebraska Soybean Association and the Nebraska State Dairy Association.

"As farmers and ranchers we strive every day to protect our land and water for the future generations of beef producers. And this proposed rule will greatly hinder our ability to care for our diverse landscape here in Nebraska as well as manage our land and water resources in harmony with wildlife, habitat, and the needs of our cattle," said Barb Cooksley, Nebraska Cattlemen vice president.

EPA's "Waters of the U.S." Rule would seek to bring water features like ponds, ditches and other areas where water flows or pools during or after rainfall events, under federal Clean Water Act (CWA) jurisdiction, even if such areas aren't wet most of the time.

EPA's action to regulate these features would subject farmers and ranchers to EPA's CWA programs, regulations and permitting requirements.

"This proposal has little to do with improving the quality of water and a lot to do with EPA having more control over land use. They've tried to spin this rule as simply clarifying confusion on the limits of their powers under the CWA. Their version of clarification is to regulate all water, everywhere. We're working to help farmers and ranchers tell EPA it's time to ditch the rule," said Steve Nelson, Nebraska Farm Bureau Federation president.

The power to regulate ponds, ditches and the other water features in question was specifically given to the states and local jurisdictions when Congress adopted the CWA, while EPA was charged with regulating "navigable waters" like rivers and other large bodies of water which constantly flows. The U.S. Supreme Court has twice ruled against EPA for similar efforts to expand the agency's reach.

Under the proposed EPA Rule, basic farming and ranching activities like tilling the soil, fertilizing crops, changing land use and even building a fence would require permits when these features are present. Permitting requirements can be costly and time consuming, which is not helpful as many farming practices are time sensitive.

"So much of what we do in agriculture is dependent upon nature and the weather. When weeds and insects start destroying crops we need to act. If we have to wait on a Washington, D.C. agency's approval to put on crop protection products, we'll lose our crops. If they really understand this rule, I think you'd be hard pressed to find a farmer or rancher who wouldn't be negatively impacted by this proposal," said Joel Grams, Nebraska Corn Growers Association president.

Also of concern to farmers and ranchers is the fact the even if they are required to obtain a CWA permit, EPA is under no legal obligation to give it to them. Subjecting farmers to EPA permitting also opens the door for lawsuits against farm families by activist groups.

"Common Sense Nebraska will be working across the state to bring awareness to farmers and ranchers and the general public about how harmful this rule would be. We're also going to work to build our coalition outside of agriculture as virtually anyone who puts a spade in the ground and turns the soil would be affected by this proposal," said Larry Sitzman, Nebraska Pork Producers Association executive director.

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