Congress has taken several steps to reduce the regulatory burden of the Clean Water Act (CWA) on farming operations.

The House passed H.R. 3158, the FUELS Act, sponsored by Rep. Crawford (R-Ark.). The bill would modify the EPA’s Oil Spill Prevention, Control and Countermeasure (SPCC) rule. The SPCC rule requires that oil storage facilities with a capacity of more than 1,320 gallons, including farms, to construct a containment facility, like a dike or a basin, which can retain 110 percent of the fuel in the container. Producers also may have to procure the services of Professional Engineers to certify compliance.

(For more, see: EPA proposal expands Clean Water Act regulation)

The FUELS Act would modify the rules by raising the exemption levels to better reflect a producer's spill risk and financial resources. The exemption level for a single container would be adjusted upward to 10,000 gallons while the aggregate level on a production facility would move to 42,000 gallons. The proposal also would place a greater degree of responsibility on the farmer or rancher to self-certify compliance if it exceeds the exemption level. Rep. Crawford cited data from the U. of Arkansas that this proposal would save Arkansas producers alone up to $252 million and up to $3.36 billion nationwide.

(For more, see: FUELS Act protects farmers
 from EPA mandates)

In another more complex matter, the Preserving Rural Resources Act of 2012 (H.R. 4278) was introduced by Rep. Hurt (R-Va.) to curtail the reach of the EPA and the US Army Corps of Engineers in their regulation of farming activities that can have an impact on streams and wetlands under the CWA. Section 404(f) of the CWA was written to protect the normal activities of farmers, ranchers and forestry operations from the requirements to obtain dredge-and-fill permits so long as their activities did not impair navigable waters or reduce their extent. These activities include construction or maintenance of farm roads, plowing, seeding, cultivating, minor drainage, harvesting and construction/maintenance of farm or stock ponds or irrigation ditches.

(For more, see: Agriculture retailers testify on EPA overreach)

Rep. Hurt and others believe that the agencies have been misinterpreting this section and requiring permits for protected activities. H.R. 4278 would assure these protections. The House Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee approved H.R. 4278 on a vote of 30-19. It now goes to the full House for consideration.

The House T&I Committee also approved legislation by voice vote that would limit the EPA's authority to conduct aerial surveillance of agricultural operations. Sponsored by Rep. Capito (R-W.V.), the Farmer's Privacy Act of 2012 (H.R. 5961) would require EPA to obtain consent from the landowner, provide prior public notice or obtain a court warrant before conducting aerial surveillance of agricultural lands or facilities.

The agency uses aerial surveillance mostly for confined animal feeding operations.

Sen. Johanns (R-Neb.) has introduced a similar bill, S. 3467, but would only place a one-year moratorium on aerial surveillance.