Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation President Jim Holte was one of six who testified at a field hearing held on Friday, November 13, by the U.S. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee at UW-Stevens Point.
Committee Chairman U.S. Senator Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin) scheduled the hearing to examine federal regulations that are being legally challenged by several states, including the far-reaching Waters of the United States rule.
“At best, the Waters of the United States rule lacks clarity when it comes to permit requirements and farming exemptions. At worst it is a blatant overreach by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers,” Holte, a Dunn County beef, corn and soybean farmer, told the panel.
Holte outlined three areas where the EPA’s actions “made a mockery of the notice-and-comment procedures within the federal government’s rulemaking process.”
- During the rulemaking process, the EPA dismissed concerns about the rule as ‘silly’, ‘ludicrous’ and ‘myths.’ Statements from agency officials made it clear that they were not listening to objections.
- The EPA engaged in a public relations campaign to solicit support for the rule. The campaign shared blogs, tweets and YouTube videos about the rule’s purported benefits without meaningful information about the rule’s actual content.
- The EPA allowed its own internal timeline to dictate issuance of a proposed rule before the fundamental scientific study underlying the proposal was complete. It later dictated issuance of a final rule without providing any further public comment.
“This unchecked process culminated in a deeply flawed regulation whose true costs were never seriously considered and will not be known for years,” Holte said.
Holte said that the rule sets the stage for thousands of farmers to need federal permits to conduct normal activities like till their fields or apply fertilizers and pest management products.
“The EPA and the Corps has repeatedly assured (in speeches and blogs) that the new rule will not increase permitting obligations for farmers or get in the way of farming,” Holte said. “These statements are misleading as the exemptions for agriculture, as interpreted by the EPA and Corps, will not protect farmers from burdensome permit requirements and devastating liability under this proposed rule. Bottom line, the courts are unlikely to give consideration to old speeches and blogs.”
“It’s impossible to know just how many farmers and landowners will be subject to agency enforcement or private citizen lawsuits. What is certain is that a vast number of common, responsible farming and forestry practices that occur today without the need for a federal permit would be highly vulnerable to Clean Water Act enforcement under this rule,” Holte said.
The Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation is the state’s largest general farm organization. Made up of 61 county Farm Bureaus, it represents farms of every size, commodity and management style.