Tag Archives: Environmental Protection Agency

Food and Farm Radio…The EPA and WOTUS

Ray Bowman of the Food and Farm Radio Show hosted me today on the mid-day broadcast.  The recently released EPA rules provided the topic of conversation.  EPA Administrator McCarthy held a telephone press conference earlier this week to further explain both the proposed WOTUS rule and the recently implemented interpretive rule.  Ray and I discussed the information shared in the conference call as well as the consequences of the rules themselves.

lakesunset.jpg

The broadcast runs for 13 minutes and you can click here if you would like to listen to it.  Otherwise, I hope that your weekend is filled with peaceful sunsets like this one that I snapped a picture of last weekend!

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Filed under Feed Yard Foodie "In The News"

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.

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Filed under Environmental Stewardship, Farming, General

Redefining Normal…

As a creature of habit, my days often follow similar patterns. In fact, days and weeks tend to flow into one another and I sometimes lose track of the calendar…Every once in a while, my routine is interrupted by an epiphanic event.  Sometimes this event is a positive experience; sometimes this event is inherently negative in nature.  Regardless, it motivates me to redefine normal.

One of the largest epiphanic events that occurred early in my tenure at the feed yard transpired when agents from the Environmental Protection Agency chose to perform a spot inspection of my feed yard.  Normally, the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality routinely inspects the feed yards across the state of Nebraska to ensure compliance with government environmental regulations; however, every once in a while the EPA comes across the region and randomly re-inspects a few of those feed yards to further ensure compliance.

Young and full of naivety and enthusiasm...

The inspection began when the agents walked into my office, flashed their federal badges and informed me that if I lied to them that I would go to prison.  What followed was one of the most unpleasant events in my life.  More than ten years later, I still I remember clearly the blatant antagonistic nature of the inspection, and I have to admit that I was completely unprepared for it.  I was a naïve twenty-four year old woman trying to learn how to run a business and care for animals.  Despite the challenges that I faced daily as a young woman entering the world of cattle feeding, I had never before been confronted with such obvious enmity.

This was my first direct personal involvement with federal government regulation and it is one that, even today, I have a hard time moving past.  That day redefined normal.  Gone was my youthful naivety.  The experience brought into question my idealistic American belief that a citizen is innocent until proven guilty, and it shocked me to my core.

In the days that followed the inspection, I was filled with internal struggle as I tried to realign my patriotism and figure out how the combatively natured inspection correlated with environmental stewardship.  One of the complaints of the agents was that I had failed to mark a zero down in my weather records on the days that we received no precipitation (I only marked down rain/snowfall amounts on the days that we received moisture).  I am enough of a rule follower that I changed my routine to accommodate the demands of the agency, but all the while I struggled to figure out the positive and practical impact that this change would have on the environment.

Redefining priorities with the maturity of motherhood...I realized that they are my legacy and they learn from my actions...

Gaining strength to get past the notion of “Once bitten, twice shy”…

More than a decade later, I took a deep breath and made the decision to voluntarily participate in a federal EQUIP cost share program through the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to make environmental improvements at my feed yard.  The nature of this agreement was based on collaboration, and consequently was much more within my comfort zone.  As I signed the paperwork, I prayed that this experience with the federal government would be better than my first one…

An aerial view of my new livestock waste control facility...

Today, I have a state of the art livestock waste control facility to move effluent water out of my cattle pens and into a lined holding pond for storage until it can be used for liquid fertilizer and irrigation water on my crop field north of the feed yard.  The new drainage system and durable plastic lined waste control facility allows for better pen drainage, and protects the ground water that flows underneath the feed yard.  It’s increased size (compared to my old livestock waste control facility), also gives me the ability to make better use of the effluent water for irrigation purposes during the crop growing season.  While this was a huge financial undertaking for me, it was an important proactive move for me to make to reduce the environmental footprint of the feed yard and I am so very proud of it.

This is a picture of my old livestock waste control facility that was constructed in the early 1970's when my father-in-law built the feed yard. We are in the final phase of cleaning the old LWCF and have removed all of the settled nutrient matter from the bottom of the LWCF and spread it on our crop ground according to the proper agronomic rates to use to replenish the nutrients on our crop ground.

Right about the time that the project was being completed, I received a phone call from someone who worked at the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality in the water quality department.  He asked me, “Anne, why did you volunteer to build a new livestock waste control facility?  It was expensive, and we did not tell you that you were required to do it.”  I responded, “It was the right thing to do, and the cost share program made it a financially viable undertaking.”

The entire answer to his question actually goes a little bit deeper than that…I had a strong desire to redefine normal in my relations with the federal government.  I was searching for a way to work collaboratively to improve the environment, and to demonstrate that the combative and intimidating nature of my previous experience with the EPA was both ineffective and unnecessary.  At the very core of my being, I wanted to lead by example and demonstrate that a positive attitude and collaboration leads to effective change.

The example that I set for her determines the future of our country...

I refused to give up on my belief that collaborative entrepreneurship is the true American way…

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Filed under Environmental Stewardship, Foodie Work!