My favorite teenager arrived home last week after spending three weeks at Trinity University taking a course entitled “Myths and Legends”. As she walked out of the airport, she was quick to tell me that a myth “didn’t have to be based on the truth or science to be real, it simply had to be accepted as such by a subset of people.”
Her words have filtered through my thoughts many times over the past few days as I pondered the recent actions of the Environmental Protection Agency. On March 25th, the EPA and the Army Corp of Engineers jointly proposed a regulation redefining what waters will come under Federal jurisdiction through a new definition of “Waters of the United States (WOTUS)” under the federal Clean Water Act.
The agencies have chosen to use the powers of the Executive Branch of government to redefine an already existing law, despite the fact that Congress refused to authorize a legislative change and the proposed rule goes against the definition of WOTUS upheld in the Federal Court system. A basic understanding of United States history would pull into question this action as it is a clear violation of the Checks and Balances System upon which our government was formed.
The proposed rule is a clear overreach of power by the Executive Branch of the United States government, cleverly disguised as environmental protection.
Our farm is diversified: in addition to the cattle feed yard, we also have grass pasture land and crop ground. This new broad definition would expand EPA’s jurisdiction to include pasture and farm ground like ours (pictured above) because during times of heavy rains/flooding parts of this land are under water…
The 88 page document that likely requires legal counsel to fully understand makes many significant changes to expand the reach of the Environmental Protection Agency. Examples of them are as follows:
- The rule effectively allows for federal jurisdiction over any and all water as the word “navigable” will be eliminated from the Clean Water Act. This means that ditches, ephemeral streams, rain water puddles or low areas of pasture or farm ground, as well as storm water conveyances in urban/municipal areas are now able to be regulated by the EPA. As such, federal permits may be required for “normal” practices both on farms and in the cities.
- The rule usurps the jurisdiction of ground water protection from state agencies because the EPA and Army Corps fail to distinguish “shallow subsurface flow” from “groundwater” thereby opening it up for federal regulation.
As part of my Nebraska State Operating Permit from the NE Dept. Of Environmental Quality, I test the ground water under my feed yard twice a year to ensure that there is no contamination. Ground water protection has historically been regulated by state regulatory agencies…
Additionally, an “interpretive rule” that was published alongside the proposed definition by the same federal agencies devastates the collaborative relationship that farmers and ranchers have built with the Natural Resources Conversation Services (NRCS) by turning the NRCS into an arm of the EPA and converting the NRCS scientists from professional consultants/resources into EPA regulators.
Together, these rules make the EPA the land-use planning agency for the entire country.
As a CAFO, my cattle feed yard has held an EPA–NPDES permit for more than 20 years. Therefore, the feed yard part of our farm was already regulated by both the EPA and the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality prior to this rule change…
I have had one direct exposure to the Environmental Protection Agency in my 17 year tenure on the farm, and it was clearly the worst single episode of my professional career. With no notice, two EPA agents arrived to perform a “routine inspection” despite the fact that my state regulatory agency normally performed this task. They entered my office flashing badges and instructing me that I would go to jail if I did not cooperate with them. Quite frankly, they treated me like I was guilty of a crime despite the fact that I was both innocent and fully cooperative.
As we toured the feed yard, there was a complete lack of civility in their demeanor augmented by an apparent ignorance of how my farm operated. One of the agents stated “I’ve never been this close to a cow before” and mistook the dirt mounds of my cattle pens for manure. They were clearly well versed in the words that appeared on my NPDES permit, but failed to have the basic knowledge of a feed yard in order to understand how those words were practically implemented to protect the environment.
Years later, as I have analyzed this experience as well as the continual political power-play in Washington DC, I have come to realize that sometimes the goal isn’t necessarily effective environmental protection, but rather a myth based power play perpetuated by a vocal minority to increase federal government control over the American people.
I worry that it isn’t about the environment. Rather, it is about continually expanding federal government control into the grassroots areas of our country.
Preserving our Natural Resources is such an important task — Each one of us yearns to enjoy in our beautiful legacy. Let’s work together responsibly to protect the Earth. It is too much of a treasure to be used in political games. The EPA and the Army Corps need to Ditch this Rule as it belittles the cornerstones of our country to egregiously expand federal government powers under the myth of environmental protection.