Ag News

EPA Administrator Pruitt to GFB: Water update near completion

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt said the agency is making progress toward rules that would provide farmers clarity on what constitutes a water of the United States under the Clean Water Act. The new rules would replace the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule developed by the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

In accordance with an executive order from President Donald Trump early in 2017, the EPA repealed the WOTUS rule, and Pruitt said the agency is nearing the completion of a replacement rule. At the same time, the EPA is delaying compliance requirements to 2020 and beyond.

Pruitt said the 2015 rule was so broad that drainage ditches, puddles and prairie potholes would all be considered waters of the U.S. under its jurisdiction.

“I think traditionally ‘navigable’ water should mean something. That should be objectively measured. When we make jurisdictional determinations, the objective criteria by which we measure that is important. We don’t want people guessing,” Pruitt told Georgia Farm Bureau media after he spoke to GFB members on March 21 during GFB’s Annual County Presidents’ Trip to Washington, D.C.

Georgia Farm Bureau has supported repealing the WOTUS rule since it was initially proposed in 2013.

Pruitt also addressed the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), which was enacted to address hazardous waste like heavy metals and toxins entering the environment. Pruitt said it wasn’t intended to apply to farms and cattle, but courts have held farmers subject to CERCLA’s emissions reporting standards with respect to emissions from livestock.

“To take that statute and then apply that to a farm, apply that to cattle out on a farm, it’s just wrong-headed. I don’t think the statute was intended to address that. So we’re trying to take steps internal to the agency, through regulatory action, that will provide clarity and protection. At some point it may be that Congress has to speak to this,” Pruitt said.

Pruitt praised UGA Extension and Georgia row-crop farmers for their efforts to avoid spray drift issues in the application of herbicide dicamba, the sale and use of which was suspended in other states last year.

“Georgia did good work and because of that good work, we’re going to reap the benefit of that this year through certainty and confidence that it’s being used this way,” Pruitt said. “I think sometimes regulators’ first response is prohibit it, and that obviously is not the right approach. The right approach is to identify the problem – is the problem related to the chemical or is it related to practices around it?”

A group of more than 100 GFB members and staff made the trip, which is set up to give county Farm Bureau presidents and other key members of the organization an audience with the state’s U.S. congressional delegation. Despite a significant snowstorm in Washington, GFB members were able to visit with the majority of the state’s members of Congress, sharing the organization’s stance on a variety of topics, including the farm bill, agricultural labor and immigration reform, agriculture’s stake in international trade and regulatory reform.

In addition to Pruitt, Trevor White of the House Ag Committee staff and USDA Chief of Staff Joby Young spoke to the group during the breakfast meeting. GFB President Gerald Long visited with Sen. Johnny Isakson, discussing GFB’s priority concerns with Georgia’s senior senator.

On March 20 the GFB group received an update on a variety of legislative issues from staff with the American Farm Bureau Federation.

AFBF Executive Director of Public Policy Dale Moore gave an overview of progress on the next farm bill, saying there is strong support to put cotton back in the farm bill commodity

Title. More said AFBF is working with the House and Senate Agriculture committees to develop solutions for dairies that will work better for producers than the dairy provisions in the current farm bill. He said it will probably be after Easter before the chairmen's drafts of the new farm bill would be unveiled.

AFBF’s Paul Schlegel updated the GFB group on legislation that, if passed, would create a new agricultural guest worker program that would mirror AFBF policy in key aspects, including being under the jurisdiction of the USDA. The Ag Act, part of a broad immigration package, would also establish an agricultural guest worker program. Schlegel said the bill's language about the program, H-2C, aligns with AFBF's policy on immigration, including placing the agricultural guest worker program under the authority of the USDA.

The U.S. continues its negotiations with Canada and Mexico on the North American Free Trade Agreement. AFBF Senior Director of Congressional Relations Dave Salmonsen noted that international trade conflicts like the Trump administration’s recent announcement of tariffs on foreign steel and aluminum, can result in U.S. agriculture being targeted for retaliatory tariffs.