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Commentary: ‘Clear’ Water Rule Means Relief For Farmers And Ranchers

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The proposed Clean Water Rule would clarify what constitutes a ‘navigable’ waterway — photo courtesy Michigan Farm Bureau

In 2015, the Obama administration created a “waters of the U.S.” rule that was so broad and vague that almost any spot where rainwater flows or pools might be tagged as a federally protected body of water.

With the stroke of a pen, farmers and ranchers across the heartland suddenly did not know if state or federal law applied to their lands and what their compliance obligations would be.

Like many of our stakeholders and constituents, we immediately saw the enormous consequences of this egregious regulatory overreach.

Defending Need For Clarity

The Clean Water Act is a flagship statute — and like many laws, it works best when its requirements are clear. This law carries penalties of more than $50,000 for any activity that puts any “pollutant” — including dirt — into any regulated water.

It certainly seems fair to let the people who make a living on the land know where those regulated waters are, especially when civil and criminal penalties come into play. What’s more, by telling people where the federally regulated waters are, we give them the information they need to comply with the law.

That’s why we’re pleased that the new Clean Water Rule proposed recently by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers will have a new hallmark: clean water and clear rules.

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Based on what we see in the proposal, the new rule will do a better job of explaining which waters are regulated.

It is broad enough to be very protective. It draws a clear enough line to provide fair notice. And it focuses mostly on things that look like water — not regulating land.

No law or regulation is ever perfect, but we applaud the EPA and the Corps for their diligence in putting forth a reasonable, common-sense proposal to protect our nation’s waters.

Stewardship Of Natural Resource

The new Clean Water Rule empowers landowners with the clarity they need to comply with the Clean Water Act. Now, farmers, ranchers and other small business owners will be able to look at their land and know — without a team of scientists and attorneys — which parts of their land are regulated by the Clean Water Act.

For many rural Americans, land and water are the most valuable assets. Their farms, ranches and communities are typically dependent on surface water sources, like streams, rivers, lakes and reservoirs, not only for their operations, but also to care for their own families. They are deeply aware of the value of clean water as a resource; their livelihood and lives depend on being able to preserve and protect it.

Farmers and ranchers are committed to constantly improving their environmental stewardship. They embrace both traditional and new conservation practices, such as planting cover crops to take up nutrients and protect the water and soil, because they care about clean water and all our natural resources. But under previous proposals, even proven, beneficial conservation practices on farms would require expensive federal permits wrapped in layers of red tape.

Taking care of natural resources is a big deal across farm country. Agricultural producers care and strive every day to leave the land and water in better shape for the next generation. The Clean Water Rule will further empower them to do just that.

Localities, states, farmers and ranchers — all Americans — can make their views on this rule known. The public should take the opportunity to submit comments on this important proposal, which honors the law, protects clean water and provides clear rules.

Rep. Mike Conaway, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee and Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Foundation, contributed this article.