W.Va. Farm Bureau responds to EPA

ELKINS – The West Virginia Farm Bureau offered information during a special meeting Tuesday about proposed federal regulations that could drastically affect local farmers and landowners.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers jointly released a proposed rule in April to clarify protection under the Clean Water Act for streams and wetlands. The new 375-page proposed regulation would carry both civil and criminal penalties if violated.

“They want control over where water flows, pools or stands any time of the year,” Steve Butler, the West Virginia Farm Bureau’s secretary and treasurer, said at Monday’s meeting, held at Elkins High School. Butler said the proposed rule would in essence place those bodies of water under the ownership of the United States.

If the rule is passed, flood planes, ditches, ponds, isolated wet areas, swales, perennial streams, intermittent streams, and even ephemeral streams that do not carry water year-round could all potentially be regulated by the EPA as if they were navigable waterways, Butler said.

This means the application of fertilizer, pesticides or manure, as well as the simple act of pulling weeds or building a fence through privately owned property, could require a permit from the government, he added.

Butler said whether one owns a small lot, a thousand acres, drills a gas well, raises cattle, or grows corn, they will be subject to this ruling and must adhere to the standards.

Daily fines of as much as $37,500 per day could be placed upon violations, and the permit process may prove to be costly in itself, Butler said.

“You’re not guaranteed a permit when you file for one. If you are granted a permit by the EPA after you’ve gone through the paperwork and filed for everything to have a permit, and it’s granted… now other groups can appeal your permit,” said Butler.

Violators may also be subject to time in jail, he said.

“The EPA claims that they’re going to only affect a little over 1,300 acres in the whole United States. They had 145 miles of streams that they had jurisdiction over,” Butler said. “After the new proposal, you’ve got 527 miles of proposed streams covered.

“That’s a 369 percent increase, and then you have another 200 acres with ponds that they’d now have control over. That’s over a 400 percent increase in that 30,728 acres. There’s 2.3 billion acres in the United States. It just doesn’t add up to 1,300 acres total,” Butler said.

Some of the approximately 30 people in attendance at Monday’s meeting said they felt as though the government was trying to seize and control their property, making it difficult to carry out daily farming activities and other ordinary aspects of property upkeep.

Those present discussed taking action and were encouraged to not blame Congressional representatives for the issue, but ask for their help before the regulation goes into effect. The public comment period will be open until Oct. 20.

Comments can be submitted to the EPA at federalregister.gov/a/2014-07142, or mailed to Water Docket, Environmental Protection Agency, Mail Code 2822T, 1200 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, D.C. 20460, ATTN: Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OW-2011-0880.

For more information on the Farm Bureau’s stance, go to www.wvfarm.org or to ditchtherule.fb.org.