Contact: Laura Campbell, 517-679-5332
LANSING — Nine members of Michigan's congressional delegation this week signed a letter imploring the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Army Corps of Engineers to yank its proposed rule redefining the agencies' regulatory authority under the 1972 Clean Water Act. Congressmen Chris Collins (R-NY) and Kurt Schrader (D-OR) composed the May 1 missive to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and Corps Secretary John M. McHugh; it bears the signatures of more than 230 members of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Calling out the Clean Water Act's definition of 'navigable waters' as already "overly broad," the letter expresses "serious concerns" about the proposed rule, which proposes a sweeping reinterpretation of what the EPA can regulate as "waters of the U.S."
"Our members applaud the stand our congressional delegation is taking on this issue," said Sarah Black, director of Michigan Farm Bureau's (MFB) public policy division.
Signing onto the letter were Dist. 3 Rep. Justin Amash, Dist. 1 Rep. Dan Benishek, Dist. 11 Rep. Kerry Bentivolio, Dist. 4 Rep. Dave Camp, Dist. 2 Rep. Bill Huizenga, Dist. 10 Rep. Candice Miller, Dist. 8 Rep. Mike Rogers, Dist. 6 Rep. Fred Upton and Dist. 7 Rep. Tim Walberg.
Visiting a blueberry farm in Van Buren County last week to hear from growers about the issue, Rep. Upton called the EPA proposal "nutty."
The proposed rule "would assert Clean Water Act jurisdiction over nearly all areas with any hydrologic connection to downstream navigable waters, including man-made conveyances such as ditches" and "aggressively expands federal authority under the Clean Water Act while bypassing Congress and creating unnecessary ambiguity."
The rule effectively removes the 'navigable' component of the Clean Water Act's definition of "waters of the United States," broadening its purview to encompass farm ditches, ephemeral drainages, natural and man-made ponds, flood plains and other occasionally or seasonally wet areas.
The entire letter can be read online via Rep. Collins' website.
As written, the proposed rule could dramatically expand federal regulation over routine farming practices—and many other commonplace private land uses, from building homes to managing golf courses. Accordingly, the move has galvanized a coalition of dozens of state- and national-level agricultural groups representing crop, livestock and dairy producers, in addition to organizations representing earth-moving contractors, landowners and rural electric cooperatives.
MFB is aggressively mobilizing its membership of some 48,000 farmers to assertively oppose the rule by appealing to the EPA before the public-comment period closes July 21.
"Farmers are common-sense people and are perfectly willing to accept—even embrace—common-sense regulation," said Black. "At the same time, though, if that regulation gets out of hand, they're not going to take it laying down. And on their behalf—advocating for their families, their lifestyle and their businesses—our organization will do everything in its power to defend their rights."
Farm Bureau members are being strongly encouraged to take action opposing the proposed rule change. MFB farmer members can submit comments via the organization's online Legislative Action Center. Non-members can comment directly on the EPA website. Consult the Federal Register for other ways to comment.
"Because they make their living off the land, farmers value our natural resources like few others," said Laura Campbell, manager of MFB's agricultural ecology department.
The letter also criticizes the proposed rule for creating confusion with ambiguous terminology that will inevitably lead to litigation, and for dramatically underestimating the extent to which it expands Clean Water Act jurisdiction. Decrying that it was "built on an incomplete scientific study and a flawed economic analysis," the letter calls for the rule to be withdrawn and returned to EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers.