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Lipstick can’t dress up EPA’s troubling waters decree

Lipstick can’t dress up EPA’s troubling waters decree
We’ve all heard the old saying that putting lipstick on a pig just doesn’t make it any prettier. But that didn’t stop the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from trying to gussy up the rule it rolled out recently to redefine what constitutes a water of the United States, or WOTUS, under the Clean Water Act.

The agency went to extraordinary lengths in its attempt to show that the new rule will not place any new burdens on farmers, small businesses and others. It insisted that the new rule will simply add clarity for farmers and other land owners. And the EPA continued to tout its “unprecedented” efforts to listen to and consider the public, including farmers, as it drafted the rule.

Farm Bureau and others are still analyzing the EPA’s final WOTUS rule to determine what’s in all the details. (This porker weighed in at nearly 300 pages, so it’s going to take some time to carefully consider it.)

However, despite the EPA’s charm surge, it’s already clear that the final rule ignores the concerns that farmers have highlighted for more than a year.

Farmers are very concerned about improving water quality. All over Iowa they are stepping up to sow cover crops, plant grass waterways, building terraces and adopt other practices that will help keep nutrients on fields and out of streams. (Check here to see how farmers' water quality efforts are helping Iowa wildlife.)

But, contrary to what the EPA said in its multiple press releases, the rule is almost certain to pile new burdens and red tape on farmers by adding permitting requirements for normal farming practices, such as fixing or installing grassed waterways and many other conservation practices. Ironically, the EPA’s water rule is likely to slow to adoption of conservation practices, instead of promoting them.

The agency’s claim that the rule will provide clarity is also hard to swallow. That’s because the EPA’s final rule remains as vague as ever on what actually constitutes a water of the U.S. Farmers are a long way from clear on what land be subject to regulation and what isn’t.

And in perhaps the biggest gloss over, the EPA’s claims it considered the concerns of the thousands of farmers who took the time and made the effort to comment on the agency’s website. Instead, the agency appears to have placed far more stock in the favorable comments it solicited in an unprecedented (and some say illegal) social media campaign and counted each internet click in support of clean water as a comment in favor of the complex and far-reaching rule. It also launched an unusual political campaign-styled effort called “ditch the myth” to try and discredit public comment opposed to the rule.

With Congressional and, potentially legal action ahead, we’ve probably not heard the end of the WOTUS rule.

And, if the past is any indication, we’ll probably see the EPA making a few more trips to the cosmetics counter to buy lipstick as they work to sell their confusing WOTUS rule, which could delay, or even slow, conservation and water quality progress.

By Dirck Steimel. Dirck is Iowa Farm Bureau’s news services manager.