Proposed EPA guidance significantly expands the regulatory scope of "waters of the U.S.," bringing with it broad, costly implementation throughout all Clean Water Act (CWA) programs, USA Rice Federation and 48 other agricultural and agribusiness organizations said in a letter to U.S. Rep. Robert Hurt (R-Va.) and the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. It is extremely important to prevent EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from narrowing the CWA exemption Congress explicitly intended for farmers and ranchers, the letter said. 

Hurt is the sponsor of H.R. 4278, the Preserving Rural Resources Act of 2012, which the committee approved today.  H.R. 4278 would reinforce the agricultural exemptions granted to farmers and ranchers by Congress in Section 404 of the CWA, the letter says.  Section 404 declares federal policy for waters of the United States, which has evolved over the years to include regulation of wetlands.

"Without these important protections, agriculture, forestry and ranching will face significantly more federal regulatory and permitting burdens, compliance costs, delays, and constraints on use of land for the production of food, fiber and fuel," the organizations said. "It was never the intent of Congress to impose these regulatory burdens on our sectors."

Examples of EPA Clean Water Act restrictions that have limited farmers from conducting normal farming operations include stopping them from building farm ponds for stock watering and irrigation and regulating the equipment farmers use to plow and the depth at which agricultural-related plowing occurs.