Goehring denounces EPA “overreach” on Clean Water Act

BISMARCK – Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring says the Environmental Protection Agency's proposed rule for the Clean Water Act is a vast overreach of federal authority and should be withdrawn and reconsidered.

“As it stands, the proposed rule is little more than a thinly-disguised attempt to sidestep the federal courts on the definition of ‘navigable water,'” Goehring said at a Tuesday news conference. “EPA says it is clarifying definitions, but in fact it is widening its jurisdiction with broad language that challenges the concept of state primacy in the protection of public water.”

Representatives of eight North Dakota agricultural organizations and associations participated in the news conference.

Goehring said the rule would give EPA authority over virtually all surface water, including wetlands, dry ditches, seasonal streams and ponds, snowmelt, washes, flood plains and riparian areas.

“They are taking the term ‘significant nexus' and using hydrology to turn a wide range of waters into the Waters of the US (WOTUS) that they have jurisdiction over,” Goehring said. “They could and probably would overrule any state rules, even those that more stringently regulate water quality.”

EPA defines a “significant nexus” as waterways that “either alone or in combination with similarly situated waters in the region, significantly affect the chemical, physical, or biological integrity of traditional navigable or interstate waters.”

Goehring said the vagueness and generality of the means of determining a significant nexus creates a confusing and unpredictable situation for farmers.

Goehring said implementation of the rule could lead to farmers needing federal permits for many common farm activities, such as weed control and pesticide application.

“Agricultural practices will be tied to mandatory compliance with what used to be voluntary standards established by the Natural Resource Conservation Service,” he said.

Goehring also said that EPA should extend the comment period on the rule by at least 90 days.

“The rule is just short of 400 pages, and was released at the same time as EPA's proposed Worker Protection Standard rule,” Goehring said. “This is one of the busiest times for agricultural producers, and for most of them there is simply not enough time to read through the rule and write comments.”

He encouraged producers and farm groups to examine the interpretive rule which mandates NRCS compliance and submit comments before the June 5 deadline and comment on the overall proposed rules by July 21. Comments can be submitted at: www.regulations.gov/#!submitComment;D=EPA-HQ-OW-2011-0880-0001.

News Conference Participants

Doug Goehring                        Agriculture Commissioner

Doyle Johannes                       President, North Dakota Farm Bureau

Mark Watne                            President, North Dakota Farmers Union

Dan Wogsland                         Executive Director, North Dakota Grain Growers

John Sandbakken                    Executive Director, National Sunflower Association

Eric Lahlum                             President, North Dakota Agriculture Association

Gary Knutson                          Executive Director, North Dakota Agriculture Association              

Paul Belzer                             Council Member, North Dakota Corn Growers Association

Laiken Aune                           Special Projects Director, North Dakota Stockmen's Association    

Scott Rising                            Legislative Director, North Dakota Soybean Growers Association