I know my farmland like the back of my hand. I can tell you what field our cattle are grazing and under which tree a new mama is tending her calf. I can show you the exact spot my grandkids got their first lesson in feeding goats. I can tell you the spot where I told my father I wanted to be a farmer just like him. What I cannot tell you now is whether the ditch along my field that only has water in it after a heavy rain will be considered a water of the U.S.
My father farmed this land and his father before him. Our family farm has changed over the decades as we are always looking for ways to do better and protect our natural resources, so our farm survives for generations to come. So to say that I was disappointed when the Environmental Protection Agency announced its plans to turn back the clock on responsible regulatory reform is an understatement. Not only are the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers repealing the Navigable Waters Protection Rule, but while they work on a new rule, they are reverting to outdated regulations that have caused decades of confusion and litigation. When the economy is struggling, and the supply chain is at its breaking point, I cannot think of worse timing to create further backlogs with regulatory uncertainty and a cumbersome permitting process.
Using the old significant nexus test, the federal government can now, again, extend its regulatory reach onto more private land. This “test” allows the federal government to make case-by-case decisions to determine if a ditch or low spot is a water of the U.S. and subject to federal regulation. Farmers and ranchers could be required to get Clean Water Act permits for simple things like plowing a field, planting their crops, or building a fence for their livestock. And if you’ve ever had to deal with a federal permitting process, you know the thick stack of paperwork is more than most farmers and ranchers can handle alone. We shouldn’t have to hire a team of lawyers and consultants to simply plow our field.
As the EPA continues to pursue a new rule to replace the Navigable Waters Protection Rule, the agency must follow through on Administrator Regan’s promise to listen to rural America and understand how its rule will impact farms. The decision to rewrite the current rule brings uncertainty to farmers and ranchers who have been caught in the regulatory ping pong of the past three administrations.
Farmers and ranchers – and all Americans – need a steady definition of “waters of the United States” that brings clarity and certainty to clean water efforts. The EPA must recognize the burden of overreaching regulations on farmers and respect the statute by not writing the term “navigable” out of the Clean Water Act. This rule serves as a crucial test for Administrator Regan as folks across the countryside watch closely, hoping he keeps his promise.
Vincent “Zippy” Duvall, a poultry, cattle and hay producer from Greene County, Georgia, is the 12th president of the American Farm Bureau Federation.