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EPA promotes water rule to farmers

Kris Husted/Harvest Public Media

The head of the Environmental Protection Agency is touring farm country, trying to assure farmers that the agency isn’t asking for more authority over farmers and ranchers’ lands.In Missouri Wednesday, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy sought to battle back against a barrage of opposition from many of the most powerful farm groups, including the American Farm Bureau and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.

The EPA wants to clarify a portion of the Clean Water Act to give the agency more control over millions of acres of wetlands and streams. But many farm groups contend that the rule would allow the agency to dictate how farmers use certain bodies of water on McCarthy, though, maintains the rule change isn’t meant to burden farmers, but to protect downstream waters.

“Part of the concern I have is that this has been characterized as the largest land grab ever in the United States. We’re not regulating land. We’re simply trying to protect drinking water, knowing that’s important for agriculture.”

Many farm interests are putting pressure on lawmakers to work against the proposal.

The Farm Bureau, in particular, has been vocal in its opposition to the change. It asserts that the new rule would give the EPA jurisdiction over small ponds and ditches and require farmers to apply for new permits and to jump through new regulatory hoops. Its “Ditch the Rule” campaign has spread on social media.

McCarthy’s farm tour was meant to highlight support for the proposal.

“I understand people have concerns,” McCarthy said. “Those are the issues we have to talk about. The more that people invent ideas and throw them on the table about what this might be, the less time we can spend together working on real things.”

The public comment period for the rule closes October 20.

Kristofor Husted is a senior reporter at KBIA in Columbia, Mo. Previously Husted reported for NPR’s Science Desk in Washington and Harvest Public Media. Husted was a 2013 fellow with the Institute for Journalism and Natural Resources and a 2015 fellow for the Institute for Journalism and Justice. He’s won regional and national Edward R. Murrow, PRNDI and Sigma Delta Chi awards. Husted also is an instructor at the Missouri School of Journalism. He received a B.S. in cell biology from UC Davis and an M.S. in journalism from Northwestern University.