Farm Bureau joins suit against waterways rule

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

The Michigan Farm Bureau this week joined a lawsuit challenging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s water rule protecting small streams, tributaries and wetlands from pollution and development, saying those features should be regulated by the states.

The lawsuit, led by the states of Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee, seeks to halt the EPA’s implementation of the rule, which has faced opposition from farm groups and Republicans in Congress since being proposed a year ago.

They criticize the regulations as overreaching the EPA’s authority under the Clean Water Act and warn that the “waters of the United States” rule could cause confusion among officials and property owners about which bodies of water must be protected. EPA says the regulations will clarify exactly which waters fall under federal oversight.

“It regulates features across the landscape that should not be under federal control,” said Carl Bednarski, president of the Michigan Farm Bureau, an organization representing 45,000 farm families.

“The rule makes it nearly impossible for a farmer to determine whether he or she has regulated features on a farm, especially because water features don’t have to have water in them to be regulated.”

This month, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit delayed the new regulations nationwide, pending further clarification of the Clean Water Act. In the meantime, the EPA says it and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers resumed use of the agencies’ prior regulations as they defined the term “waters of the United States.”

The GOP-controlled U.S. House voted to block the regulations in May in a bill that required the EPA to try again. Similar legislation is stalled in the Senate.

Republican Rep. Fred Upton, who chairs the House Energy & Commerce Committee, said he’s met with members of the agriculture community in five of his six counties in recent weeks, and the water rule is the No. 1 issue they’re concerned about.

“There is a real worry about EPA getting dramatically involved in the permitting of our crops,” said Upton of St. Joseph in southwest Michigan.

Rep. John Moolenaar, R-Midland, said he’s glad the Sixth Circuit has blocked implementation of the rule and hopes the court will strike it down permanently.

“Farmers are our best conservationists,” said Moolenaar, who sits on the House Agriculture Committee. “They don’t need bureaucrats from Washington coming to their farms and regulating the puddles and ditches in their fields.”

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