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EPA Withdraws Water Regulation after Opposition Raised by NMPF

February 5, 2015

As a result of objections initially raised by the National Milk Producers Federation and endorsed in legislation passed late last year by Congress, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has withdrawn a regulatory guidance issued as part of the Waters of the U.S. proposal concerning when farmers must seek Clean Water Act permits for a long list of normal farming activities near wetlands.

On Friday, January 29, the EPA and the U.S. Department of Army signed a memorandum withdrawing the “Interpretive Rule Regarding the Applicability of Clean Water Act Section 404(f)(1)(A).”

Last summer, NMPF requested that the Interpretive Rule be withdrawn because it could have actually discouraged water conservation and environmental best practices. Language prompting the EPA to withdraw the language was included in a spending bill approved last December in Congress.

“Our concern with the initial proposal from last year is that it could have altered the long-standing and productive relationship between farmers and the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, in a way that would have made it harder for farmers to implement water conservation measures,” said Jamie Jonker, NMPF’s Vice President for Sustainability & Scientific Affairs.

“We’re pleased the EPA and Army have recognized that this regulation could have backfired, and that they’ve taken the necessary step to withdraw it,” Jonker said. The EPA guidance, officially called an Interpretive Rule, was issued in March 2014. It said farmers are only exempt from needing Clean Water Act permits for more than 50 routine farming practices if they comply with detailed NRCS technical conservation standards.

Historically, these standards have been voluntary, and the farming practices exempt from the permit process. Had the interpretive rule not been withdrawn, “the NRCS would have been thrust into the role of enforcer, rather than remaining a source from which farmers could seek conservation advice. This could have hindered rather than helped conservation efforts,” Jonker said.