The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been a main topic of discussion in agricultural circles this week as the debate over the proposed Waters of the U.S. Rule continues to rage. The Lincoln Journal Star newspaper website reports that Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman went so far during a conference call with reporters as to call the EPA “the enemy of agriculture,” saying the agency has been turning to overly aggressive attempts at regulation.
The JournalStar.com website quotes Heineman, “The federal government, particularly under the Obama administration, has been overly aggressive with regulation. We all support clean air, clean water and appropriate regulations. But it is the EPA that is the enemy of agriculture.”
The JournalStar.com continues:
A series of proposals and disagreements in recent years – from proposed regulation of farm dust to considering a reduction in the amount of ethanol required to be blended into gasoline – have strained the relationship between producers and the EPA.
Farmers and ranchers argue they know how to best care for the land they rely on to survive.
Nebraska Department of Agriculture Director Greg Ibach, on the same conference call with the governor, summed it up.
“Whether it has been the EPA’s past clandestine flights over Nebraska to spy on livestock feeding operations, or their move to try and regulate individual farmer’s properties now through Waters of the U.S., or their foolish move earlier this year to try to change the RFS (Renewable Fuels Standard), the EPA is the biggest regulation problem that Nebraska farmers and ranchers face.”
Demanding Clarification about Waters and Wetlands Maps
Also this week, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology brought attention to a series of EPA maps highlighting waters and wetlands for all 50 states. The maps were updated in 2013, shortly after the EPA proposed its Waters of the U.S. rule, Smith says, and were never made public. When confronted at a hearing, EPA Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe agreed to release the maps.
The EPA responded, saying the maps show nothing more than the location of U.S. water resources and are in no way connected to the agency’s plan to clarify what bodies of water come under its regulatory authority.
Rep. Smith sent a letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy demanding additional information about the agency’s motivation for having had the detailed maps assembled.
Smith writes, “These maps show the EPA’s plan: to control a huge amount of private property across the country. Given the astonishing picture they paint, I understand the EPA’s desire to minimize the importance of these maps. But the EPA’s posturing cannot explain away the alarming content of these documents. It’s time to give Americans a chance to make up their own minds about the EPA’s intentions. While the agency marches forward with a rule that could fundamentally re-define Americans’ private property rights, the EPA kept these maps hidden. So, today I will be posting the maps on the committee’s website for public review.”
In a press release, Smith says while the EPA has claimed the maps have not yet been used to regulate, they have failed to explain why the agency used taxpayer money to create them. The EPA paid a private contractor to make many of these maps, yet the details of the arrangement have not been disclosed. He says serious questions remain regarding the EPA’s underlying motivations for creating such highly detailed maps that were created just days after the EPA announced its Waters of the U.S. rule.
The letter requests all documents and communications related to the EPA’s contract to create these maps and demands that these and any other previously undisclosed maps in the EPA’s possession be entered into the official rulemaking docket for public review and comment. The letter also requests the EPA keep the public comment period open for at least 60 days to provide adequate opportunity for public review and comment.
EPA Responds to Map Accusations
The EPA responded by way of a blog post from Tom Reynolds, associate administrator of the EPA’s office of external affairs and environmental education. Reynolds sought to clarify the situation in the post, “Mapping the Truth,” in which he says the EPA has never and is not now relying on maps to determine jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act.
“Before discussing the truth about the history and purpose of the maps, let’s review some basic facts. The Clean Water Act was passed by Congress to protect our nation’s water bodies from pollution. This law has nothing to do with land use or private property rights, and our proposal does not do anything to change that. The idea that the EPA can use the Clean Water Act to execute a land grab or intrude on private property rights is simply false.”
Reynolds also outlines the following points:
· The maps were originally created in 2005 during the previous administration to understand the potential impact of Supreme Court decisions on the nation’s water resources.
· The maps were revised last year with updated data from the U.S. Geological Survey, the scientific agency for cataloguing the nation’s natural resources.
· Simply put, these maps do not show the scope of waters historically covered under the Clean Water Act or proposed to be covered under EPA’s proposed rule. These maps show generally the location of many streams, wetlands, rivers, lakes and other water bodies. They serve as a tool for visualizing how water flows across our nation and in regions of the country.
· EPA has never and is not now relying on maps to determine jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act.