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EPA Administrator Says "Ditch the Myths" on Proposed Clean Water Rule

CHERYL TEVIS 07/08/2014 @ 10:59am Cheryl has been an editor at Successful Farming since 1979.

EPA administrator Gina McCarthy said today that her department is making a concerted effort to reach out to farmers to correct “a growing list of myths floating around” regarding the proposed Waters of the U.S. rule to the Clean Water Act.

“We want to sit down and have a frank conversation with farmers to make sure that their interests and concerns are reflected in the work we do,” she said in a press call earlier today.

McCarthy is continuing this outreach with a visit to the Rocheport, Missouri, farm of Bill and Judy Heffernan on Wednesday. She said she will deliver a speech on Waters of the U.S. at the Kansas City Agribusiness Council luncheon on Thursday “to set the record straight.”

“I’ve been visiting with farmers and producers across the country, and we’ve been getting great advice on how to protect downstream water quality without getting in the way of what it takes to farm,” she said. “Protecting clean water and a strong farm economy go hand in hand.”

She added, “We want to set the record straight about the types of bodies of water protected by the rule. The rule is about protecting bodies of water that provide drinking water for one in three Americans, or about 117 million people. We need to have a serious conversation about drinking water, public health, and natural resources.”

McCarthy acknowledged that there are “some legitimate concerns out there.” But she added, “Frankly, some of the concerns are ludicrous.”

She listed the following myths:

  1. Some say EPA will regulate small, unconnected waters, including puddles on lawns, driveways, and playgrounds. “That’s just silly,” she said. “The proposal is about protecting water that science tells us has significant impact.”

  2. Some say EPA plans to regulate every last ditch. “That’s also not true,” she said. “We will look at what science tells us has significance downstream.”

  3. Some say we will regulate groundwater, including tiling systems. “Again, not true,” she said. “Our proposal clearly doesn’t regulate groundwater. Drainage systems don’t require a permit.”

  4. “Some say farmers will need a permit if their cattle cross a wet field or stream,” she said. “All normal farm practices are exempt, period. The bottom line is if you didn’t need a permit before, you will not need one now.”

McCarthy says EPA has worked with USDA to ensure all farm exemptions under the Clean Water Act are retained. “We’ve added 56 conservations to that list to recognize the great conservation work farmers already do in partnership with USDA and NRCS,” she said. “We are not narrowing the list. We want to provide additional clarity so there’s no worry or misunderstanding about what are normal farm practices.”

She added, “We’ve already had conversations with farmers and ranchers, local ag organizations, state ag directors, and others who represent the real interests of the ag community. We’re holding workshops so we can understand concerns.”

McCarthy pointed out that a Supreme Court decision requires EPA to identify a more science-based process for protecting waters.  “The Supreme Court asked for a rule to provide clarity. We are not overreaching or expanding EPA jurisdiction,” she said.

“We are getting a lot of support from farmers and ranchers, but their voices are being drowned out by others who want to distract with myths,” she said. “We want to ditch the myths, and focus on the facts,” she said.

In response to a question about the delay in the blend rule regarding ethanol, McCarthy said, “It’s clear to me based on comments we received regarding the proposed rule that there’s general concern about two factors: 1) the volumes to be blended, and 2) the way we adjust the blend.

“We want to make sure the way we do it advances the joint interests of including biofuel into our system, and that we take time we need to address it in the best way. The administration has a strong commitment to biofuels, and we want to make sure final rule reflects this. We think those most concerned will be pleased that we’re taking the time to do it right.”

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