In 1972, Congress established the Clean Water Act (CWA) to create a basic structure for regulating water quality standards and discharges of pollutants into “waters of the United States.” Under this act, “waters of the U.S.” are classified as bodies of water that are “navigable.” In other words, the EPA has jurisdiction over a body of water you can sail a steamboat or large ship through.
While Congress gave the EPA authority over “navigable” waterways, the EPA is again trying to abuse and expand its authority. The agency announced a new rule proposal in March that would redefine “waters of the U.S.” to expand the water and land that falls under its jurisdiction.
This proposal amounts to the largest land grab in history. Essentially, it would give the agency control over all bodies of water. This includes ponds, streams, creeks, ditches, puddles, man-made conveyances, wet areas on pastures, etc. Basically, the federal government would control every drop of water in the country.
The EPA doesn’t want to pass this rule through regular order in Congress. They have tried this twice and failed. Instead, the agency plans to bypass Congress and force us to comply through a rulemaking process.
If adopted, the new rule would not be good for the Texas cattle industry. For the first time, certain ditches would be defined as jurisdictional tributaries under Clean Water Act programs. Additionally, conservation activities not complying with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) practice standards would be required to have a 404 dredge-and-fill permit.
This means you would be subject to additional permitting requirements for applying pesticides, grazing cattle, conducting construction projects and performing other routine maintenance on your land. These permits can cost around $30,000 and take up to a year to receive. Failure to obtain them would likely result in a penalty.
When the EPA drafted this flawed rule, they didn’t consult with agricultural industry groups or you as producers. Instead, the agency was too concerned with finding ways to expand its jurisdiction, while in-turn creating more burdensome regulations for the men and women who work daily to provide the food and fiber of our country.
This proposal presents significant challenges for us, but there is a way we can help stop it. I encourage you, your family, friends and neighbors to comment on the rule in the federal register before the deadline ends Monday, October 20, 2014. Your participation is important as we must let the EPA know how detrimental this rule would be to our industry and livelihood. You can submit your comments by visiting our web site at TSCRA.org, and clicking on the “EPA Land Grab” button. We need to get at least 10,000 comments by this deadline, and anyone is welcome to comment. Also, let your Congressmen and Senators know they should oppose this rule.
It is crucial that we send a clear message to the EPA that we will not allow this proposal to be implemented, and its desire to expand onerous government regulations will not be tolerated. It’s time to get rid of this rule. The future of our industry depends on it.
Richard Thorpe III is the owner and operator of Mesa T Ranch, headquartered in Winters, Texas. Thorpe currently serves as the First Vice President of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, and he became a TSCRA director in March 2006.