The House of Representatives Agriculture Committee held a hearing today regarding the impacts of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) actions on the rural economy. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy was the hearing’s sole witness. The hearing showed a continued broad opposition to the controversial “Waters of the United States” Rule (WOTUS), which already is faced with a number of legal challenges against it.
“While WOTUS remains under a judicial stay, we all understand that is only temporary, said National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) President Tracy Brunner. “This rule poses a significant risk to cattle producers and all land use stakeholders. The overwhelming requests to withdraw the WOTUS rule by the bi-partisan members of the House Agriculture Committee mirror those of America’s farmers and ranchers.”
Administrator McCarthy was questioned during the hearing about the EPA’s violation of the anti-lobbying provision of the federal rule making process, a claim that was confirmed by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in a legal decision made last December. Administrator McCarthy maintained that her agency acted within the law.
“You broke the law,” said Representative David Scott (D-Ga.). “It needs to be admitted, it needs to be recognized and furthermore you spent taxpayer’s money in the lobbying. And, the GAO reports it’s $64,610 that you spent in lobbying from February 2014 to 2015. Now, let’s come clean with this so we can correct this. There’s no way you’re going to correct this if you don’t realize that you’ve drastically overstepped here.”
The committee also discussed EPA’s claim that WOTUS will not affect current Clean Water Act exemptions in place for agriculture, and Rep. Crawford (R-Ark.) raised the issue of EPA compliance, expressing concern that EPA agents raise enforcement actions with farmers and ranchers, knowing that producers are not willing to fight the agency because it costs them more in legal costs than succumb to EPA pressure.
Administrator McCarthy did admit that landowner questions of jurisdiction over waters must be considered by the government, in contradiction to earlier statements that the ditch exemptions were automatic.
Withdraw or defunding of the WOTUS rule remains a top priority for NCBA in 2016. NCBA will also continue the lawsuit against the agency.