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Waters of the U.S. Rule Hurts South Dakota Producers

In South Dakota, agriculture is our number one industry, accounting for more than half of our economic output. To be successful, our farmers and ranchers must be good stewards of their land so that it remains viable. And they are.  South Dakota producers are inherently good conservationists - their livelihoods depend on it. They don’t need the Obama Administration interfering in their conservation efforts.

Unfortunately, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Army Corps of Engineers think they know how to manage our land better than us.   Their latest proposal would redefine EPA’s jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act, expanding its regulatory authority to cover puddles, small ponds, field ditches and other areas with only remote connections to water, essentially allowing them to dictate farming operations.

Over the President’s Day recess, I hosted a roundtable discussion with area stakeholders in Sioux Falls to hear firsthand how the Waters of the U.S. proposal would impact agriculture. Representatives from the South Dakota Corn Growers Association, the South Dakota Soybean Association, Ag United, Minnehaha County and the South Dakota Farm Bureau all showed up and told me the same thing—the proposed rule would significantly handicap their day-to-day operations. Under the new rule, my understanding is that if a farmer wanted to spray fertilizer on his fields but part of it was connected to water – even temporarily – that farmer would have to apply for a permit before he or she could proceed so as not to contaminate that water. And we all know how well the federal government is at processing paperwork.

If  the intent of the rule is merely to “clarify” the Clean Water Act and not change any policy – as EPA claims is the case – then they shouldn’t need this rule on the books at all. But I agree with farmers and ranchers that the rule would be a complete overhaul and expansion of EPA’s jurisdiction. In this case, I believe it is Congress’s duty to determine whether such a sweeping policy change is necessary. I’m confident that many of my colleagues would agree with me that the Waters of the U.S. proposal is completely unnecessary.

In 1972, the Clean Water Act established a system that gives the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers the ability to regulate navigable waters, such as rivers. It allows local governments to monitor smaller water features, like ditches, ponds, and streams because state and local governments are more in touch with economic and environmental situations on the ground. This has been working for the past 43 years – without the heavy hand of Washington getting in the way.

Giving the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers more control over our lives and land is both unnecessary and unwise. Every farmer and rancher I have talked to about this has agreed that the proposed rule would bog down their productivity with massive new regulatory hurdles.  It is clear to me that the Waters of the U.S. proposal is fatally flawed. I will continue to seek ways to stop its implementation as a member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, which has jurisdiction over EPA and the Army Corps.