At a hearing of the U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee, Senator John Hoeven this week urged Natural Resources Conservation Service Chief Jason Weller to work closely with producers in North Dakota and across the country to dispel uncertainty and find solutions for issues created by Waters of the U.S., conservation compliance in the new farm bill and measures to help protect against flooding.
The senator invited Weller to North Dakota to meet with producers directly to address these and other concerns they’ve raised about new regulations impacting farmers and ranchers.
Rescinding Waters of the U.S.
“Chief Weller needs to actually sit down with producers and use their input to find solutions. The Waters of the U.S. rule can’t be fixed with a multitude of exemptions,” Hoeven said. “It is ill-conceived and unworkable, and it needs to be entirely rescinded.”
The senator told Weller that the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Waters of the U.S. proposed rule and the interpretive rule that accompanied it, are a big problem for North Dakota farmers and ranchers, as well as other industries. Moreover, the new rule captures almost every acre of wet or even occasionally wet ground. The EPA and the Corps issued the interpretive rule in conjunction with the proposed Waters of the U.S. rule to clarify the scope of Clean Water Act jurisdiction over the nation’s waters and wetlands.
Hoeven said Weller indicated that the EPA and Corps are considering a withdrawal of the non-binding interpretive rule that identifies 56 farming and ranching conservation practices that would be exempt from the Clean Water Act’s dredge-and-fill permits due to the confusion it has caused producers.
USDA has made much of the interpretive rule’s exemptions, but when producers look at the Waters of the U.S. rules, they find that their farms and ranches are under much more regulation than previously and that they have much less flexibility under the Clean Water Act.
Regional Conservation Partnership Program and Flood Control
Hoeven also pressed the chief on the Regional Conservation Partnership Program. The RCPP, which Hoeven worked to include in the farm bill, combines four existing programs into one streamlined, efficient rural water management and flood protection program. Given the flood history in North Dakota, Hoeven has been pushing for comprehensive flood control solutions for the entire Red River Valley, and programs such as RCPP offer new tools to accomplish that goal.
This May, USDA designated the Prairie Grasslands, which includes the Red River Valley, as a critical conservation area under RCPP, which is one part of a comprehensive plan to protect the Red River Valley and gives us a new tool to help us partner with others to meet local conservation and flood protection objectives. These flood protection projects will address local flooding issues in our small and rural communities around the Red River Basin and each one of these projects can provide additional flood protection benefits downstream all the way to Canada.