On Tuesday, the U.S. House voted 262-152 to approve legislation that would prevent the development and implementation of a regulation expanding the scope of the federal Clean Water Act (CWA) to cover most of the country’s water bodies, ditches and gullies, a rule that would be particularly detrimental to agriculture. The National Pork Producers Council hailed the bill’s passage and will be urging the Senate to take similar action.

“NPPC is grateful that the House overwhelmingly approved legislation to stop this regulatory overreach,” said NPPC President Howard Hill, a pork producer from Cambridge, Iowa. “We need the Senate to follow the House’s lead and vote to protect America’s farmers.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in April issued a proposed rule intended to clarify their authority under the CWA over various waters. Currently, that jurisdiction – based on several U.S. Supreme Court decisions – includes “navigable” waters and waters with a significant hydrologic connection to navigable waters. The proposed “Waters of the United States” (WOTUS) rule would broaden that to include, among other water bodies, intermittent and ephemeral streams such as the kind farmers use for drainage and irrigation. It also would encompass lands adjacent to such waters.

NPPC, along with other agricultural organizations, last week released online maps, utilizing the same federal data that EPA uses to implement the CWA, to help the public better understand the scope of the agencies’ proposal. [Click here to view the maps.]

The House bill, the “WOTUS Regulatory Overreach Protection Act,” sponsored by Rep. Steve Southerland, R-Fla., would prohibit EPA and the Corps of Engineers from “developing, finalizing, adopting, implementing, applying, administering, or enforcing” the WOTUS rule and any associated guidance attempting to clarify the scope of the clean water law. The legislation also would block a companion interpretive rule, which enumerates agricultural practices that would be exempt from the WOTUS rule.

“The expanded coverage resulting from the proposed rule, which likely would negate the agricultural exemptions, could force most farmers to apply for Clean Water Act discharge permits,” said NPPC’s Hill, “and permits likely would be needed for a host of traditional farming practices such as application of pesticides and fertilizer. This rule would hand activist groups a tool they could use to file lawsuits to force farmers to obtain permits merely for planting seeds.

“NPPC wants EPA to rescind its agricultural exemptions rule immediately and to either withdraw the WOTUS rule or work with agriculture to make changes in the proposal that reflect real on-farm conditions, then reopen the rule for public comment,” Hill said.

The House legislation would require EPA and the Corps of Engineers to write with state and local officials a proposed rule based on consensus recommendations, which would be subject to public review.

In a letter sent yesterday to members of the House, NPPC, 25 state pork associations and dozens of other agricultural groups urged lawmakers to vote in favor of the Southerland bill. [Click here to read the letter.] NPPC also signed on to a similar letter to House lawmakers that included national agricultural organizations and business associations.