EPA needs to clarify Clean Water Act rule for farmers

07/10/2014 5:24 PM

07/10/2014 5:24 PM

Over the last 42 years, the Clean Water Act has led to tremendous improvements in the quality of U.S. rivers and streams. One big benefit has been safer drinking water for millions of Americans.

But the rules that carry out the intent of the law have changed with time. And in following U.S. Supreme Court rulings, the EPA’s latest proposed regulations have failed the test of being clear to the public.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy is accountable for correcting the situation and is pledging to do so.

A number of farmers in Kansas, Missouri and other states are concerned that a pending clarification of the federal act will require them to give up some of their current farming activities or seek the EPA’s permission for how to handle water runoff on their lands.

EPA’s critics have been quick to pounce. U.S. Rep. Sam Graves, a Missouri Republican, and others are bashing the agency, with some claiming a power grab is underway to control farmers and other landowners. Those politically oriented stunts should be ignored.

In an interview with The Star’s Editorial Board on Thursday, McCarthy conceded that “legitimate concerns” have been raised about the proposed rule, contained in an 88-page document.

Primarily, the EPA has not been clear enough about the limited scope of the changes, she said, which has led to confusion out in the real world, where farmers are wondering whether small puddles of water or little gulleys of occasional runoff suddenly have become big concerns for them.

McCarthy said several times that was not the EPA’s intent. The agency actually is supposed to be making things less confusing in carrying out the Clean Water Act. The administrator emphasized that farmers generally will be able to continue doing business the same way they have for decades, without having to go to the EPA for new permits on how they handle water on their properties.

Many farmers don’t trust the EPA or McCarthy’s soothing words. The proposed rule needs to be rewritten to spell out exactly what is changing — but also clearly focus on what’s staying the same for the majority of farmers.

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