Ranking Member Stabenow Opening Statement at Hearing on Waters of the United States Proposed Rule

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow, Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, released the following opening statement – as prepared for delivery – at today’s hearing entitled “Waters of the United States: Stakeholder Perspectives on the Impacts of EPA’s Proposed Rule.”

Stabenow’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, follow.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

For more than 40 years, the Clean Water Act has been a vital tool in promoting the health and livelihood of all Americans.

Speaking as a Michigan-native, those of us in the Great Lake State feel a special connection to water, and a strong appreciation for its importance to our everyday lives. As Chair of the Great Lakes Task Force, I see firsthand the effect water has on our economy and way of life – how it sustains our growing agricultural production, bolsters our manufacturing base, and powers a vibrant tourism industry.

Of course, quality of water is essential to quality of life in every state. All Americans need a clean, reliable source of water.  And it is for this reason we meet today:  to discuss the importance of maintaining the health and integrity of our nation’s waters in a manner that will not unintentionally burden our nation’s farmers and ranchers, now or in the future.

Last year, as a result of confusion created by Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed a rule to define the waters of the United States. Although the proposal was not meant to target agriculture, the proposed rule has led many to question its intent, as well as the standing of agriculture’s historic exemptions from Clean Water Act regulations.

In July 2014, I joined several of my colleagues in a letter to the EPA and the Army Corps expressing strong concerns with certain parts of the proposed rule that we believe require clarification before a final rule is published.

In the letter, we emphasized the importance of clean water and the need for providing certainty to the agricultural community.  We also asked several hard questions, demanding better definitions on key issues that directly affect agriculture, including terms like “ponds,” “ditches,” and “floodplains.” 

Based on the response I received and several discussions I have had with the EPA – I believe the appropriate changes will be made to ensure that our agricultural producers get the certainty they need — and deserve. This is critically important so that our farmers and ranchers can continue operating with the confidence that their farming activities will not be regulated under the Clean Water Act. In fact, I believe we are all committed to making sure that is the case.

Since the Clean Water Act’s inception, the vast majority of agricultural activities have not been targeted by the EPA or State’s that implement the Act.  I do not believe that this rule will change that fact.  And, I agree that agricultural producers need to feel confident that is the case.

It is our responsibility to work with the EPA to make sure the final rule is clear concerning the historical role of the Clean Water Act and agriculture. As always, I look forward to working through our Committee to accomplish this goal so that we can maintain two essential needs for our country – clean water and agricultural productivity.

Thank you.