CHARLESTON – Members of the West Virginia Farm Bureau are cautiously hopeful after courts blocked the Environmental Protection Agency from enforcing a new rule that many claim far overreaches the agency’s power.
The rule, known as the “Waters of the United States” rule is an extension of the Clean Water Act, and would extend the EPA’s authority to all bodies of water, from large farms to citizens’ yards.
Joan Harman with the West Virginia Farm Bureau said this new rule would put a heavy burden on farmers – and landowners – across the country.
“You’re required to do impact studies that are expensive and take months to do, and when you’re trying to get a crop into the ground, you don’t have months to fool around, to get permission to apply fertilizers to your crops,” Harmon said. “It could cost a farmer an entire season worth of work and put him out of business.”
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit issued a stay for the rule Oct. 9, just 13 days after the EPA started trying to enforce it.
West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who led the charge, called the ruling a “critical victory” in the fight against federal overreach.
Harmon said the redefinition of the rule does nothing to make the water cleaner; in fact, it doesn’t change the standards one bit. What it does, she said, is require landowners to get permits before they do anything with their land: “If they want to dig holes, if they change the type of crops they’re going to plant, if they want to apply pesticides or fertilizers.”
And it doesn’t just include farmers. The EPA’s rule is designed to affect anyone who owns land, meaning the coal mining industry, the forestry industry or ordinary households, Harman said.
“If your’e a household with a pond in your backyard and you want to fertilize your lawn, if you put fertilizer near that pond, you’re violating that new rule.”
Harman said those permits are costly, and require a long waiting period before obtaining. Without the permits, landowners risk huge fines.
The West Virginia Farm Bureau has been working to get the public on board in the fight against this new rule since it was first proposed. Staff hosted presentations across the state to different groups, asking them to submit comments against the rule. They also collected thousands of signatures against the rule that were sent to the EPA. Harman said they received good responses to their efforts.
Still, even with the stay issued by the court, the Farm Bureau remains cautious.
“I see the stay as a victory, however, we don’t know how long that stay is going to remain in place,” Harmon said. “We’re urging farmers to continue to be very cautious and keep an ear out and listen to the news, because the stay could be lifted at any time.”