Tag Archives: environment

The EPA, WOTUS, and the Myth of Environmental Protection…

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 definition would expand EPA's jurisdiction to include our pasture and farm ground...

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 agencies...

    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 farm is already under the jurisdiction of the EPA as the farm has held an NPDES permit through the agency for more than 20 years.

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.

familypictureblkwhite.jpgI 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.

11 Comments

Filed under Environmental Stewardship, Farming, General

The Route Less Traveled…

There is a stretch of road in between Arnold and Dunning Nebraska that is a little slice of heaven.  It is 29 miles of rolling hills, canyons, and grazing animals.  I think of it as truly The Route Less Traveled, but I have to admit that it is a place that brings me great peace.

A special place...

A special place…

The drive is a solitary trip, and rarely do I encounter another human being while traveling along this route.  I have the pleasure of taking this road a half a dozen times a year when I trek north to the Nebraska Sandhills to move cattle off of home ranches and into my feed yard.

A marriage of man-made technology and beautiful prairie land...

A marriage of man-made technology and beautiful prairie land…

Perhaps it is because I love the wide open spaces—Perhaps it is because my cell phone doesn’t work so I have the choice of opening the window and listening to the silence or cranking up the radio and singing to my favorite songs.

The blend of open grassland and canyons makes this a truly unique place...

The blend of open grassland and canyons makes this a truly unique place…

Regardless, I know that I look forward to the drive that seems to soothe my soul.

In addition to cattle and horses, I have seen many deer, ducks, turkeys, pheasant, and grouse along the way.  It is beautiful the way that livestock live in harmony with the wild animals of the prairie.

Mallard ducks enjoying the open water that has not yet frozen with the promise of winter...

Mallard ducks enjoying the open water that has not yet frozen under winter’s spell…

I am often reminded as I head north on this road the importance of environmental stewardship and what a pivotal role ranchers play in maintaining the balance of life in the rural areas of our country.

They play several important roles...

The great converters…

These cattle thrive amongst the natural wildlife of Nebraska while also converting forage into an iron rich protein source that fuels both my family and yours.

a

The healthy balance of mankind and nature speaks to me even in the winter months when the grasses turn brown…

The Nebraska Sandhills’ grasslands are a perfect blend of Mother Nature’s gifts and the tender loving care of the cattlemen and women who tend to them amongst the routes less traveled…

14 Comments

Filed under Environmental Stewardship, General

BlogHer Feature…

BlogHerBadgeYesterday afternoon, BlogHer featured a version of “Different Kinds of Smart” on their Green section.  I wrote the original post (posted this last Monday on Feed Yard Foodie) after having a “virtual conversation” with an environmentalist from Oklahoma on the BlogHer network.  Please take a minute to visit the BlogHer site to support me by liking or sharing the post.  To read the article on BlogHer, simply click the words in Green below this picture of my girls.

As you might guess, my daughters are INCREDIBLY excited to have this picture up on the BlogHer site for all to see...

As you might guess, my daughters are INCREDIBLY excited to have this priceless picture up on the BlogHer site for all to see…

Environmental Sustainability Needs All Smarts On Deck

A special thanks to Heather, the “Green” editor, for featuring my post!

Leave a comment

Filed under Feed Yard Foodie "In The News", General

Ode to Earth Day…

Christmas 2012 072

Earth Day

Earth, our fragile island home,

Is in need of saving, that is known.

Millenniums of humans have taken a toll

So now we must fix the wrong we doled.

Earth Day reminds us of that time we borrowed.

Recycling and conserving are more imperative than ever to secure a tomorrow!

Ashley Grace

13 Comments

Filed under Ashley Grace's Corner and The Chick Project..., General

Protecting Our Livelihood…

When I fell in love with my favorite farmer at the age of 18, I began to research his home state of Nebraska.  This interest in “where he came from” transferred over to my studies, and I wrote a research paper on the Ogallala Aquifer for one of my Environmental Studies classes at Dartmouth College.Ogallala_Saturated_Thickness_1997

At the time I did not realize it, but the Ogallala Aquifer is perhaps the single most important natural resource for our farm.  It is a subsurface body of water that underlies approximately 80% of the Hi Plains region of the country.  Nebraska is located above one of the deepest parts of the aquifer.

My favorite farmer teaching the next generation why water quality is so important!

Approximately 2/3’s of our crop ground is irrigated directly from the aquifer, and it is also our source for drinking water (although usually our family drinks it out of a facet)…

In addition to ground water irrigation, Central and Western Nebraska are known for surface irrigation.  Our surface irrigation system is comprised of a series of ditches and reservoirs that work with the Platte River to bring rain water and snow melt from North Central Colorado and Eastern Wyoming to our region.

The irrigation pivot north of the feed yard that uses recycled water in addition to surface irrigation water to help this corn grow.

The irrigation pivot north of the feed yard that uses recycled water in addition to surface irrigation water to help this corn grow.

The surface irrigation system described above, in addition to irrigating our crops, also works to replenish the aquifer.  Together with water conservation practices and more efficient irrigation methods, this surface irrigation system has actually increased the water levels of the aquifer underneath Central Nebraska during the last 25 years.

One of my favorite parts of summer is looking at the lush green of Matt's alfalfa fields.

One of my favorite parts of summer is looking at the lush green of Matt’s alfalfa fields.

Water, quite literally, brings life to our farm.  Our family, our animals, and our crops cannot survive without it.  It is paramount for Matt and I to take care of our water supply—our farm is not sustainable without it.

The promise of life...

The promise of life…

The use of soil water probes, center pivots, and water recycling practices all play a role in the conservation of our precious water sources.  However, we must not only conserve the surface and ground water but also to protect the quality of the life-giving aquifer.

In partnership with the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality, I began Ground Water Monitoring testing at the feed yard in 2003.  I test the ground water (its depth and its quality) two times per year in five different strategically placed wells surrounding the feed yard.

Taking a water sample out of one of the five testing wells that surround the feed yard.

Taking a water sample out of one of the five testing wells that surround the feed yard.

This allows me (and the NDEQ) to monitor the depth of ground water surrounding our farm, track the directional flow of the water, and ensure that ground water quality is not negatively impacted by my feed yard.  In its simplest form, Ground Water Monitoring is my report card of the job that I do to responsibly manage the nutrients on my farm.DSC03742

Twenty years ago, when I met my favorite farmer, I had no idea that I would become a key contributor to our farm and the protection of its natural resources.  Today, I wear many hats:  American, Wife, Mom, Cattle Feed Yard Boss Lady, Caregiver of Natural Resources.  I wear them all with pride, never forgetting that my responsible diligence determines the environmental sustainability of my livelihood.

9 Comments

Filed under Environmental Stewardship, General, Sustainable Spring