03.24.15

Rural America Weighs In On Murky ‘Waters of the U.S.’ Rule at Senate Agriculture Committee Hearing

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Pat Roberts, R-Kan., Chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, today held a hearing on the impacts of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed ‘Waters of the United States’ (WOTUS) rule. 

The proposed WOTUS rule expands federal jurisdiction under EPA’s Clean Water Act and has ignited widespread concern from farmers, ranchers and rural constituencies around the country. The hearing, titled “Waters of the United States: Stakeholder Perspectives on the Impacts of EPA’s Proposed Rule,” featured two panels of witnesses comprised of state and local officials responsible for the administration and enforcement of the proposed Clean Water Act changes and key agricultural industry representatives impacted by the burdensome regulation. For witness info, testimony, and to watch the hearing, click here

“I find it particularly troubling that despite the unanimous outcry from a broad coalition of stakeholders and industries that have voiced concern about the manner and process by which EPA advanced this proposed rule, EPA continues to plunge ahead,” Chairman Roberts said. 

“Just last week, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy made public statements that the agency is working to finalize the proposed rule as early as this spring or summer.  

“However, the Administrator did say that they are changing the name of the rule from ‘Waters of the United States’ to the ‘Clean Water Rule.’ Quite frankly, Administrator McCarthy, merely changing the name is not enough. Change the rule. If you want to protect clean water, it is time to listen and change the rule in a manner that allows for public input and collaboration AND is effective for farmers, ranchers and rural America.” 

The following is Chairman Roberts’ opening statement as prepared for delivery: 

Good morning. I call this meeting of the Senate Committee on Agriculture to order. 

Today we will cover an important issue that impacts the agricultural sector and rural America. I know that my colleagues on this Committee hear regularly from a variety of constituents whether it be from farmers, ranchers, state agency officials, or other representatives about the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed rule that redefines “waters of the United States” under the Clean Water Act.

As I have said before, this Committee will be the platform for America’s farmers, ranchers, small businesses, and rural communities. Too often I hear from my constituents that they feel “ruled” and not “governed.” The genesis of today’s hearing is in response to exactly that comment. 

We have before us two panels of witnesses to provide first-hand concerns associated with EPA’s proposed rule on clarifying “waters of the United States.” I thank each witness for traveling to Washington and providing essential testimony before the Committee on such an important issue. 

The perspectives we will hear today range from legal interpretations of EPA’s proposed action, agency officials and state partners who will ultimately be responsible for the administration, and yes, enforcement of any changes to the Clean Water Act, and key stakeholders that will inevitably have to navigate the Clean Water Act permitting process and bear the unforeseen costs associated with an expansion of what constitutes a jurisdictional water under the Clean Water Act. 

Despite EPA receiving over one million comments on this proposed rule, we will work to ensure that the voices of our constituents and stakeholders impacted by this proposed rule are heard by their government. 

I find it particularly troubling that despite the unanimous outcry from a broad coalition of stakeholders and industries that have voiced concern about the manner and process by which EPA advanced this proposed rule -- EPA continues to plunge ahead. 

Just last week, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy made public statements that the agency is working to finalize the proposed rule as early as this spring or summer. 

However, the Administrator did say that they are changing the name of the rule from “Waters of the United States – WOTUS” to the “Clean Water Rule.” Quite frankly Administrator McCarthy – merely changing the name is not enough…change the rule. If you want to protect clean water, it is time to listen and change the rule in a manner that allows for public input and collaboration AND is effective for farmers, ranchers and rural America. 

EPA also claims that they have “listened” to farmers and ranchers about the concerns they have raised with the proposed rule and all those concerns will be addressed in the final regulation. Other than talking points, EPA has provided no assurances based on concrete evidence to alleviate any concerns from agriculture or rural America about this rule. 

Given the economic impact this proposed rule will likely impose on farmers, ranchers, and rural businesses, I have significant concerns about the Administration’s cost-benefit analysis for this rule. 

EPA contends that the proposed rule would have a minimal economic impact. Many strongly disagree with that assertion--   and a study commissioned by a broad-based network of impacted stakeholders, the Waters Advocacy Coalition, suggests otherwise. The study raises critical questions and criticisms with regard to many assumptions EPA factored into the agency’s cost benefit analysis. If anything, more economic analysis is needed before any significant change to current law is made.  

I look forward to hearing from our witnesses.   

With that, I recognize our vice-chair, Senator Stabenow for any remarks.    

 

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