Like many farmers, builders, and small businesses, I see the EPA's proposed new rule redefining "waters of the United States" as just one more power grab by an already out-of-control EPA.
As the top Democrat on the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure I have been working closely with the Committee's top Republican, Chairman Bill Shuster, in bringing the Congress's attention and scrutiny to the new rule. Our efforts in that regard included a recent hearing at which we called officials from EPA and the Corps of Engineers to explain, in that public setting, what that new regulation would mean.
Among our witnesses was the President of the American Farm Bureau Federation, who argued that the new rule would negate longstanding statutory exemptions for agriculture under the Clean Water Act, so that the EPA can regulate "navigable waters" that don't normally fall under any traditional definition of the term. As I told EPA officials at that hearing, the changed definition means that anyone who wants to undertake any activity, whatsoever, that may involve so much as a puddle must seek an EPA permit - and that's a big problem for me and farmers of our State.
While peddling the new rule as a means to provide greater clarity about which waters fall within their permitting purview, the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers, I believe, have expanded the reach of their authority and will be placing unnecessary and expensive burdens on farming, as well as mining, housing construction, road-building, and any number of valued economic activities.
Having helped to lead the charge in the House of Representatives against the EPA's power-grab, working with Members on both sides of the aisle to move legislation to rein in the agency's overreach, I intend to push back hard against this rule, using the full power of my position on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which has jurisdiction over this EPA regulation.
Concurrently, I also am working in several areas to support our State's diverse faming and agricultural economy - creating jobs and expanding opportunities for West Virginia farmers.
With my support, the Congress recently passed the 2014 Farm Bill, which includes a host of programs that provide farm commodity support and agriculture research, as well as livestock, conservation, disaster, and nutrition assistance that benefits our state.
I also have been a longtime supporter of legislation to repeal the federal estate tax, and supported a permanent reduction in estate tax liabilities for small farms - ending a seemingly intractable 12-year debate on the issue, no easy feat in this Congress. Most recently, I supported the America's Small Business Tax Relief Act, which would increase permanently to $500,000 the expensing of capital investments in business equipment - a big help for our farmers.
Currently, I am working with our State's Agriculture and Veterans officials to support and advance the West Virginia Warriors and Veterans to Agriculture Program, which would provide employment assistance to returning soldiers by helping them to transition into careers in agriculture.
A project I am especially proud to have had a hand in supporting is the West Virginia Value Chain Cluster Initiative, which received Federal funding from the Rural Jobs and Innovation Accelerator Challenge, an interagency collaboration among the Economic Development Administration, Appalachian Regional Commission, and USDA Rural Development.
The aim of this program is to create job opportunities in food-related clusters by providing technical and marketing assistance to local farmers, so that they can sell their crops to local restaurants and school boards for school lunches, as well as online, serving farms in Fayette County and the Greenbrier Valley.
Today's growing interest in and appreciation of locally grown foods presents a bright opportunity for our small family farms, and this federally supported initiative can help our West Virginia farmers make the most of this popular, healthy "eat local" concept.
With more than 23,000 farms in our State, 95 percent of which are family-owned, I intend to keep working to ensure Federal policies and programs that favor our State's agricultural producers.
- U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV) represents West Virginia's Third Congressional District. For more information, contact Diane Luensmann at (202) 225-3452, or visit rahall.house.gov.