Nancy Stoner, acting assistant administrator for water with the U.S. EPA, will answer questions and "clarify misconceptions" about the agency's proposed rule governing the definition of waters of the U.S. in a webinar scheduled for 3 p.m. Eastern time on Wednesday.
The webinar follows EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy's trip to a Missouri farm and a meeting of the Kansas City Agribusiness Council last week to address agriculture's concerns about the proposed changes.
The changes impact what EPA deems a "water of the U.S." If an area or body of water is declared a water of the U.S., the EPA would have the jurisdiction to enforce provisions under the Clean Water Act.
EPA says the changes are meant to clarify, "cut red tape" and save money – eliminating the need for the Army Corps of Engineers to make case-by-case decisions on what waters are "in" and what waters are "out."
But some farm groups are concerned that the proposal actually represents a broad expansion of the types of waters and areas EPA would be allowed to regulate – not a clarification.
"EPA is deliberately misleading the regulated community about the impacts on land use. If more people knew how regulators could use the proposed rule to require permits for common activities on dry land, or penalize landowners for not getting them, they would be outraged," AFBF President Bob Stallman told the House Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment in a hearing last month.
In the waters of the U.S. webinar notice, however, EPA maintains that the proposal "does not regulate new types of ditches, does not regulate activities on land, and does not apply to groundwater."
"EPA's goals align with farmers: clean water fuels agriculture – and we all depend on the feed, fuel and fiber that our farmers produce," the notice says.
Interpretive rule withdrawal request
An interpretive rule that accompanied the proposal regarding Clean Water Act permitting exemptions for normal farming activities has also gained attention from the ag community, with the National Corn Growers and a host of other groups last week asking for its withdrawal.
"Given that the lawful definition of a [water of the United States] is currently under development, we are forced into a considerable degree of speculation as to the Rule's practical effects in light of the current list of covered conservation practices," NCGA said in its comments on the interpretive rule.
"For example, we believe that the details concerning normal farming activities or conservation work carried out in the context of an intermittent stream and its riparian zone will, in certain instances, be considerably different than those for when the work is carried out in an ephemeral drainage feature in an upland area in a farm field.
"We are concerned that the proposed WOTUS rule, as it is currently drafted, encompasses both of these features as WOTUS. We and many others will object as a matter of law and policy to such a definition in comments submitted on the proposed WOTUS rule."
Comments on the interpretive rule closed July 7 after a one-month extension. Some groups suggested that the rule, which took effect immediately, should have been subject to a legislative review.
Sign up for the EPA webinar on WOTUS clarification.