DOUGLASS TOWNSHIP — A membership appreciation hog roast Wednesday brought Montcalm County Farm Bureau members together for an evening of socializing, but with an important message to bring home and reflect on.
Surrounded by the beautiful landscape of Anderson and Girls Orchards north of Stanton, approximately 35 members and guests listened to a presentation from Michigan Farm Bureau’s Agricultural Ecology Manager Laura Campbell, who delivered a serious message.
According to Campbell, this past spring the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed a rule under the Clean Water Act (CWA) that redefines what can be regulated “as a water of the United States.”
“This rule is a massive overreach that will impact agriculture nationwide,” she said. “We need to pull this rule back. We don’t want it. We don’t need it.”
On March 25, the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued a proposed rule that would expand its regulatory authority under the CWA to types of land features and waters that would include puddles, ponds, ditches and isolated wetlands that are common throughout rural properties such as those found in Montcalm County.
“This is giving the agencies the power to dictate land-use decisions and farming practices in or near them,” Campbell said. “The rule will make it more difficult to farm or change a farming operation to remain competitive and profitable.”
According to Campbell, the “waters of the U.S.” rule proposes a change to the definition of that term.
Where the CWA has previously defined those waters as those that are navigable or are significantly connected to navigable waters, the proposed rule would include smaller waters and even some dry land in the definition of “waters of the U.S.”
“As a result, permit requirements that apply to navigable waters would also apply to ditches, small ponds and even depressions in fields and pastures that are only wet when there is heavy rain,” she said. “If we lose delegated authority, permitting will become more difficult.”
Campbell said the EPA’s goal is to help regulate pollution, specifically runoff from farms and rural residences, by regulating these small waterways.
The EPA has stated that the rule will offer clarity, simplify the regulatory process and improve protection of water recourses, but Campbell disagrees.
Campbell said the language in the proposed rule would have devastating consequences that do not properly reflect the EPA’s stated purpose.
“Instead, this rule will hurt the agriculture industry, as well as many other businesses,” she said. “It will damage the American economy that depends on the services agriculture and other industries provide.”
Campbell is encouraging both members and nonmembers of the Montcalm County Farm Bureau to oppose the EPA’s implementation of the rule on the definition of the Waters of the United Sates under the CWA.
Sen. Judy Emmons, R-Sheridan, and Rep. Rick Outman, R-Six Lakes, were both in attendance at Wednesday’s gathering, and expressed equal concern on the issue.
“Language against this has passed in the house and the senate,” Emmons said. “Basically, we need to stop and examine this. That’s including the consumers, that includes everyone.
Emmons said she always asks herself, ‘what’s the problem we’re trying to address?’ and finds difficulty answering that question on this issue.
“You look right on down the food chain on this issue, and it’s not like we currently have a dangerous food chain,” she said. “I’m not exactly sure what problem the EPA is trying to address.”
For Outman, the problem is personal, as he has dealt with regulations with the Department of Environmental Quality and Department of Natural Resources as he performs excavating work on various farms throughout the county.
“This would give (the EPA) jurisdiction over pretty much everything, and that’s crazy talk,” Outman said. “This definitely needs to be re-examined.”
For more information on the subject or on the Montcalm County Farm Bureau, visit www.michfb.com online.