Rick Ebert: Clean water, clear rules for farmers
The Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers have proposed a new plan to clarify what bodies of water and areas around waterways should be regulated by the federal government in conjunction with the Clean Water Act.
The new proposal has been drafted to replace a flawed rule that was momentarily put in place in 2015. That rule was immediately challenged in the courts because of its vague, broad and confusing provisions that provided unprecedented authority for government agencies to regulate land use. After a variety of court decisions, the rule has been struck down in 28 states and has never been implemented.
Farmers want clean water and clear rules, and that is why we are encouraged by the new rule proposed by EPA and the Corps. Farmers across Pennsylvania and the United States are committed to protecting America’s waterways and drinking water. The new clean water rule should provide us with the regulatory certainty we need to farm confidently and ensure that we are implementing practices to protect our natural resources.
Additionally, there are already comprehensive state regulations in place here in Pennsylvania to protect waterways from farm runoff, but that fact was largely ignored during public comments several years ago. Furthermore, any modification to the Clean Water Act will not change or weaken the Safe Drinking Water Act, which is the primary federal law that protects all public drinking water supplies in the United States.
Pennsylvania farmers deeply care about environmental issues, such as healthy soil and water quality, and they have been taking positive actions on their farms to prevent soil erosion and runoff from farmland. In 2015, a study by Penn State for the state Department of Environment Protection verified extensive amounts of voluntary actions implemented by farmers to improve the environment in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. The study focused exclusively on best management practices paid for entirely by farmers without any government assistance. In addition, results of a more recent DEP study, which was released in November, showed that 96 percent of the 2,934 farms they visited in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed met state requirements for water quality planning.
Farmers understand that some surface waters should be regulated by the federal government, while others should fall under state jurisdictions. We, however, think farmers should be able to look across their property and be able to tell what is a federally regulated area, without having to hire lawyers, environmental engineers and consultants.
During the public comment period, open through April 15, we encourage farmers and other interested parties to offer their thoughts on the proposed rule. Farmers may have suggestions on how the proposal can be improved upon or how the rule can be further clarified.
Overall, I’m enthused by the proposal, which should provide farmers with clearer guidelines for us to follow, while establishing requirements that will further improve water quality.
Rick Ebert, a Derry Township farmer, is president of the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau.