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Worries mount over EPA overstepping authority

ALTOONA, Pa. -- Pennsylvania Farm Bureau has voiced its opposition to a recently proposed rule jointly issued by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Army Corps of Engineers that attempts to expand federal regulation of land areas as “waters of the U.S.” Testimony was presented here in Altoona during a hearing before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.

Speaking on behalf of Pennsylvania Farm Bureau (PFB), Cambria County Farm Bureau President Tommy Nagle testified that farmers are concerned about the possible consequences of the proposal on farms and the future viability of family businesses, especially when you consider that land features identified in the proposal are found extensively on farms all across the nation.

“What if the ultimate effect of this rule prevents farmers from passing their operations on to their children, or prevents young people—like me -- from becoming farmers?” asked Nagle.

Farm Bureau maintains that Congress clearly intended regulations under the Clean Water Act to focus on navigable waters, not ponds, ditches or puddles that occur on land during a heavy rainstorm. In addition, two Supreme Court rulings have affirmed that the federal government is limited to regulating “navigable” waters.

“Those of us in agriculture believe that the authors of the Clean Water Act included the term “navigable” for a reason,” said Nagle, who with his wife Tracy, raises a herd of beef cattle and grows corn, soybeans and other grains on 775 acres near Saint Augustine in Clearfield Township.

Farm Bureau notes that the 370 pages of regulatory language effectively erase current limitations on EPA and Army Corps authority. The proposed rule is supposed to be a clarification, but it seems to only provide more confusion and less clarity for farm families whose land will be judged by these agencies. “If I guess wrong on their judgment, I could face fines of up to $37,500 per day. If they guess wrong, I have to go to court to correct it. That’s a scary thought,” added Nagle.

PFB is also questioning the validity of EPA claims that agricultural exemptions currently provided under the federal Clean Water Act should relieve farmers of any need to worry about the proposed rule. Exemptions provided in the Act are mostly limited to plowing and earth moving activities, and do not apply to the use of fertilizers or similar farm inputs on farm fields. Many practices in fields could require government approval through a complex process of federal permitting, if the proposed rule becomes final.

Farm Bureau is asking EPA and the Corps to extend the comment period from 90 days to 180 days in order to provide farmers, who are actively engaged in planting their crops, to fully review how the proposed changes will impact their businesses and give them time to provide feedback.

Additionally, Farm Bureau is calling on EPA and the Corps to voluntarily withdraw their proposed rule. In absence of voluntary withdrawal, Farm Bureau is seeking the help of Congress to take political and legislative action to have EPA and the Corps “ditch the rule.”

Pennsylvania Farm Bureau is the state’s largest farm organization with a volunteer membership of more than 58,300 farm and rural families, representing farms of every size and commodity across the state.