More than 70 agricultural groups Friday told the U.S. EPA that 90 days isn't enough time to prepare and submit comments on the agency's proposed updates to the definition of the waters of the United States.
The signatories – among them the National Pork Producers Council and several other national and state agricultural organizations – are requesting extensions of the comment periods on both the waters rule and its accompanying agricultural exemptions rule.
The two proposals were first announced in March. A 90-day comment period was subsequently initiated in April and is scheduled to conclude July 21.
The "waters" rule would dictate what falls under the definition of waters of the U.S., therefore designating EPA's and Corps' jurisdiction areas for enforcement of regulations outlined in the Clean Water Act.
Currently, that jurisdiction includes "navigable" waters and waterways with a hydrologic connection to navigable waters. The groups say this could include intermittent and ephemeral streams and ditches.
If the rule were to be approved as written, application of manure on lands near such streams, for example, could be considered a discharge and require a CWA permit, they say.
In requesting the extensions, the agricultural groups pointed out that an EPA study of the connection between intermittent waters and wetlands and larger bodies of water has yet to be completed. They also said the timing of the comment period and stakeholder public meetings coincide with one of the busiest times for farmers, many of whom are in the middle of planting or harvest.
"For most farmers and ranchers," said NPPC President Howard Hill, "more than two-thirds of the comment period for the proposed rule occurs when we are in the fields round the clock, not sitting at our computers reading regulatory proposals."
The agricultural groups also raised in their request concerns that EPA has made during stakeholder meetings statements on the rules that it then has contradicted in public pronouncements, complicating the groups' ability to develop meaningful comments.
The organizations are asking for an additional 90 days beyond July 21, or 90 days after EPA releases its "Connectivity Report," which is supposed to serve as the scientific basis for any expansion of CWA jurisdiction.
For the agricultural exemptions rule, the groups are requesting that the comment deadline coincide with the closing date for the proposed rule but be at least an additional 45 days beyond the current June 5, 2014, deadline.