By DEBORAH GERTZ HUSARHerald-Whig Staff Writer
PITTSFIELD, Ill. -- Illinois Farm Bureau's ongoing effort to "ditch" proposed rules redefining "waters of the United States" will make a stop in Pittsfield.
A Wednesday meeting at the Pike County Farm Bureau is open to all Farm Bureau members regardless of where they live and to the public.
"We don't just want this to be farmers," said Blake Roderick, executive director of the Pike County Farm Bureau. "This is an agricultural community, but there are so many other aspects of rural Illinois and Missouri that are impacted by this rule -- home builders, road builders, quarries, transportation. It doesn't matter if you live out in the country or in downtown Quincy, you're going to be impacted by it in some way."
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers jointly proposed a rule in March tied to protection under the Clean Water Act for streams and wetlands. It clarifies that the act protects all the nation's waters, a network stretching from the streams that flow only seasonally or after heavy rains to wetland areas and the largest rivers.
Other wet areas, like temporary shallow wetlands, will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis under the rule to determine if they're connected to the network and subject to federal permit requirements.
The EPA says if farmers don't need a permit today, they won't need a permit under the proposed rule.
"There's a lot of misinformation floating around that farmers need permits to plow a field or for a cow to walk over a floodplain. That could not be further from the truth," an EPA official told The Herald-Whig. "It's not to increase the permitting burden. It's to streamline. If you're arguing (for) two years if a water is covered or not, that's two years you're not getting about your business."
The EPA says the rule does not protect any "new" types of waters not historically covered by the Clean Water Act and is consistent with the Supreme Court's more narrow reading tied to waters that are navigable. The agency said it and the Corps have coordinated with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to develop a separate rule to ensure 56 specific conservation practices that protect or improve water quality will not be subject to permitting requirements.
Some practices, like wetland or stream restoration and building wildlife habitat, required a permit from the Corps under the Clean Water Act. With the interpretive rule, an EPA official said farmers who do the practices according to Natural Resources Conservation Service standards won't need a permit.
However, Illinois Farm Bureau says the proposal expands the types of waters and lands subject to federal permit requirements, which could limit farming practices and activities by other businesses and landowners.
Lauren Lurkins, the state Farm Bureau's director of natural and environmental resources, and Adam Nielsen, its director of national legislation and policy development, will provide an overview of the 88-page proposal and answer questions.
"This is just another phase in our strategy to educate our membership about the impact this proposed rule would have on their individual operations," Lurkins said.
Roderick said the session will go beyond simply building awareness of the proposal.
"We want to get people started to actually make comments, not just to the EPA but also to our members of Congress," Roderick said.
Bills proposed in both the House and Senate aim to stop the EPA from enacting the rule.
WHAT: The Pittsfield "DitchTheRule" meeting.
WHEN: 6 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 6.
WHERE: Pike County Farm Bureau, 1301 E. Washington, Pittsfield.
A light supper will be served. Reservations for supper are requested.
Reservations and more information are available by contacting the Pike County Farm Bureau at 217-285-2233 or firstname.lastname@example.org.