The House Agriculture Committee held a hearing Friday to consider the impacts of the Environmental Protection Agency’s actions on the rural economy. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy was the hearing’s sole witness. National Cattlemen’s Beef Association President Tracy Brunner said this hearing showed the continued broad opposition to the EPA’s “waters of the United States” or WOTUS rule.
“While the WOTUS rule remains under a judicial stay, we all understand that is only temporary,” said Brunner. “This rule poses a significant risk to cattle producers and all land use stakeholders. The overwhelming requests to withdraw the WOTUS rule by the bi-partisan members of the House Agriculture Committee mirror those of America’s farmers and ranchers.”
During the course of the hearing, McCarthy was repeatedly questioned about her agency’s violation of the anti-lobbying provision of the federal rulemaking process. Despite the fact that the Government Accountability Office found that EPA violated these provisions, McCarthy maintained that her agency acted within the law. Rep. David Scott, D-Ga., pointed out that EPA drastically manhandled and violated the rights of farmers, especially in dealing with the Clean Water Act.
“You broke the law,” said Scott. “It needs to be admitted, it needs to be recognized and furthermore you spent taxpayer’s money in the lobbying. And, the GAO reports it’s $64,610 that you spent in lobbying from February 2014 to 2015. Now, let’s come clean with this so we can correct this. There’s no way you’re going to correct this if you don’t realize that you’ve drastically overstepped here.”
The committee also discussed the exemptions, including the exemptions in place for agriculture, which EPA claims will not be affected by the WOTUS rule. In response to a question by Rep. Walorski, R-Ind., McCarthy admitted that landowner questions of jurisdiction over waters must be considered by the government, in contradiction to earlier statements that the ditch exemptions were automatic.
“The way in which the law works is that if there is a question that you’re going to be destroying or polluting what might be a water… the individual landowner might be concerned that their activity would be doing that and they may need a permit… on their private land or elsewhere, then that question is raised by that landowner and they ask the appropriate questions, that usually and often goes to USDA or others and filters its way through.”
U.S. Rep. Crawford, R-Ark., also raised the issue of EPA compliance, expressing concern that EPA agents raise enforcement actions with farmers and ranchers, knowing that producers are not willing to fight the agency because it costs them more in legal costs than succumb to EPA pressure.
Withdraw or defunding of the WOTUS rule remains a top priority for NCBA in 2016. NCBA will also continue the lawsuit against the agency.