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Editorial: Proposed EPA rules need clarity

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | SEPTEMBER 03, 2014 5:00 AM

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Iowan farmers are clamoring for clarification in regards to a rule proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency, which may result in steep fines and an unwarranted expansion of the EPA’s jurisdiction.

The potential rule causing the commotion would allow the classification of certain farmland sections as bodies of water and therefore under the jurisdiction of the EPA.

In March, the EPA issued a proposed rule for public comment intended to define what is considered a water body under its jurisdiction. The rule includes the navigable waters of the country that have traditionally been covered under the Clean Water Act as well as all tributaries, waters adjacent to navigable waters, and other waters with what the EPA vaguely calls a significant nexus to a navigable water.

A loose interpretation of the very vague rule could be used to claim that dry farmland that has filled with rain could be considered a tributary. The main implication of this rule is the potential effect it will have on Iowan agriculture; farmers may face fines for violating the Clean Water Act simply by using the chemicals integral to their profession.

Some farmers are seeing this proposed rule as the EPA trying to expand its influence by writing a proverbial blank check that could be interpreted in any manner most beneficial to them. For example, the rule does nothing to distinguish between a tributary, which would fall within the scope of the new rule, and a gully, which would not. When issuing a rule that could have such widespread ramifications, clarity becomes an imperative. That the rule leaves so much room for interpretation and is receiving so much public backlash before it has even been implemented should say without question there is room for improvement.

In addition to the rule that would potentially fine farmers for using pesticides and herbicides necessary for cultivating their crops, the EPA also issued an interpretive rule that would require farmers to adhere to National Resource Conservation Service Standards. These standards, which were rarely followed by farmers, speaks to a larger issue in the interpretation of the EPA’s rules.

Given the backlash the EPA is receiving, it comes as no surprise that Iowans are pushing representatives in both the Senate and House of Representatives to prevent to stop the rule. Sen. Chuck Grassley R-Iowa, who has cosponsored the Senate bill, agrees that the rule is “way beyond the scope of the law and is full of loopholes and unclear guidance.” However, some believe that drastic action isn’t required and that the EPA’s rules won’t be as disastrous as the farming community fears.

Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, declined to move against the rule, although he agreed the wording has potential to be misinterpreted.      

The issue is not where one stands on the new rules but that they are simply too vague. Given the far-reaching adverse effects they might have, the Daily Iowan Editorial Board believes it would be more than worth it to have them re-evaluated. If the EPA wants to make changes on how farmers tend to their livelihood and potentially impose fines for failure to adhere to its rules, the least it could do is clarify what the rules are. When issuing mandates on how an industry must function, the need for definitive standards and guidelines should go without saying.


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