Top Policy Initiatives in Washington D.C. for the Week of September 12, 2016

House Agriculture Committee Addresses Outdated Packers and Stockyards Act

This week, the House Agriculture Committee approved H.R. 5883, legislation to modernize the Packers and Stockyards Act. Enacted in 1921, the Packers and Stockyards Act is intended to protect buyers and sellers of livestock from unfair, deceptive, and discriminatory practices.

Having not been revised in decades, Rep. David Rouzer (R-NC), chairman of the Livestock and Foreign Agriculture Subcommittee, introduced H.R. 5883, to expand the definition of “marketing agency” to include video and online auctions and update acceptable payment methods to include electronic transfer of funds, ensuring the legislation keeps up with the latest technologies available as our industry and modern banking continues to evolve.


Sage Grouse Provision Key for Western Producers

Work continues in Washington, D.C., on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for FY17. The House-passed version of the bill includes a provision blocking implementation of Federal management plans for the greater sage grouse over ongoing successful management of the species by Western states, livestock producers, and others. As the conferees work through the various issues contained in this year’s version of the “must pass” legislation, it’s clear that House leadership is working hard to keep the provisions in place and protect producers.

Efforts are now focused on the Senate, and in particular Senator John McCain (R-AZ), the Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.  Despite documented impacts to military training exercises at installations like Yakima Training Center in Washington State, not to mention the impact of the plans on rural western economies, Senator McCain continues to resist inclusion of this critical language. Senators from around the West will continue to press this case with McCain through the fall in order to ensure this important legislation crosses the finish line intact.


Senate Agriculture Committee Holds Hearing on CFTC Commissioner Nominations

Today the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry held a hearing to consider the nominations of Dr. Christopher Brummer and Brian Quintenz to serve as Commissioners of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.

The CFTC is charged with fostering open, transparent, competitive, and financially sound markets, to avoid systemic risk, and to protect the market users and their funds, consumers, and the public from fraud, manipulation, and abusive practices related to derivatives and other products that are subject to the Commodity Exchange Act. The Commission is comprised of five Commissioners nominated by the President, with the advice and consent of the Senate. Currently, there are two Commissioner vacancies at the CFTC. Senator Pat Roberts, chairman on the Senate Agriculture Committee, opened the hearing by stressing the charge of the CFTC Commissioner.

“As noted by the CFTC’s own mission statement:  Farmers, ranchers, producers, commercial companies (or end-users), municipalities, pension funds and others use markets to lock in a price or a rate and focus on what they do best – innovating, producing goods and services for the economy, and creating jobs,” said Roberts. “It is essential that the CFTC have individuals in charge that truly take that mission statement to heart, as the innovation and hard work of our farmers and ranchers seems to have been forgotten in recent years.”

Chairman Roberts continued and highlighted the impact the CFTC has on the agriculture industry.

“Many of us here raised concerns when Dodd-Frank was being considered and insisted that the legislation should not negatively impact those who had nothing to do with the causes of the 2008 crisis, and it is important to note that this was a bipartisan concern. Yet, when Dodd-Frank became law, and the CFTC began writing new regulations, it is in fact our farmers, our ranchers, our county grain elevator managers who felt the heavy hand of over-regulation come down on them,” said Roberts. “It is clear that Congress should not withhold needed regulatory relief for our farmers, ranchers, and risk management service providers any longer. Nor should the CFTC. The CFTC must look through the lens of regulatory practicality – not the lens of regulatory irrationality.”

Now that the CFTC is close to being fully staffed, the Commission will have the man-power and time to investigate critical issues that impact the cattle industry, like volatility in the marketplace.


Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals Sides with Producers in EPA Release of Information

The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Friday that the Environmental Protection Agency abused its discretion in disclosing farm information from producers across the country. In a long running dispute, EPA in early 2013 released the names, addresses, telephone numbers, and GPS coordinates of concentrated animal feeding operations from more than 30 states to environmental activist groups through a Freedom of Information Request. These groups included Earth Justice, the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Natural Resources

Defense Council.

Following objections by NCBA and other producer groups, EPA reviewed the information on over 80,000 facilities and concluded they had released too much information and requested the return of the electronic documents. Despite this effort, the harm had already been done and the farm information had been disseminated to many activist groups beyond the three groups that made the FOIA request.

In the case brought against EPA by American Farm Bureau and National Pork Producers Council, the Court validated the concerns of producers across the country by determining that EPA abused its discretion in releasing personal information of farmers and ranchers and directed the Agency to refrain from future releases of such information. The Court concluded that “the EPA’s disclosure of spreadsheets containing personal information about owners of CAFOs would invade a substantial privacy interest of the owners while furthering little in the way of public interest that is cognizable under FOIA.”

While this decision cannot recapture the information already released, it does effectively prevent EPA from releasing further private producer information. The case will be remanded to the district court for further proceedings.


Senate Passes Water Resources Development Act with Key Provisions for Agriculture

The U.S. Senate passed the Water Resources Development Act today with an amendment containing an exemption for animal feed products regulated by the EPA’s Spill Prevention Control and Countermeasure rule. The bill passed by the Senate will bring much-needed regulatory relief for small and medium sized farms and livestock producers across the country who store oil, or oil products, at their operations.

The amendment to the bill championed by Senator Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) would wholly exempt animal feed storage tanks from the SPCC rule, both in terms of aggregate storage and single-tank storage. Additionally, it exempts up to 2,000 gallons of storage capacity on remote or separate parcels of land as long as those tanks are not larger than 1,000 gallons each.

“When it comes to preventing spills from on-farm fuel storage, producers already have every incentive in the world,” said Senator Fischer. “We live on this land. Our families drink this water.”

In May 2014, Congress acted to ease the burden by exempting producers who had up to 6,000 gallons of aboveground storage and no single tank with a capacity of 10,000 gallons or more. However, that legislation neglected to fully exempt animal feed storage from the SPCC rule. Senator Fischer’s amendment provides that critical relief to our nation’s livestock producers.

The legislation must now be considered and passed by the U.S. House of Representatives.

 

Beltway Beef is a weekly report from Washington, D.C., giving an up-to-date summary of top policy initiatives; direct from the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association

Supreme Court Upholds Landowner Rights in WOTUS

Source: Beef Magazine

The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) handed down a pivotal decision in the ongoing and protracted efforts by cattle producers and other landowners to protect themselves from the EPA, Army Corps of Engineers and the controversial Waters of the United States (WOTUS) regulations.

The Supreme Court’s ruling in United States Army Corps of Engineers v. Hawkes Co., Inc., set a precedent that landowners may challenge the Corps’ jurisdictional determination specifying that a piece of property contains a “water of the United States.” The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association filed an amicus brief in support of Hawkes. NCBA President Tracy Brunner said this is a major victory for landowners across the country.

“This case highlights the issues landowners and land-use stakeholders have with the Clean Water Act,” said Brunner. “Neither of the options provided to landowners are realistic under the current regulatory environment. Applying for a 404 permit is expensive, exhaustive and time consuming. Gambling on EPA enforcement and risking civil and criminal penalties is foolish. This case strikes a balance that at least gives us some measure of regulatory certainty in the notoriously unclear Clean Water Act.”

The Hawkes case involved three companies engaged in mining peat in Minnesota. Due to the difficulty inherent in determining the need for a 404 Dredge and Fill Permit, the Army Corps allows property owners to obtain a standalone jurisdictional determination if a particular piece of property contains a WOTUS and therefore requires a 404 permit before using the land.

Upon receiving an approved jurisdictional determination that their land did contain a WOTUS, the companies exhausted the administrative remedies available and then filed suit in Federal District Court challenging the Corps’ jurisdictional determination. The government argued that such a jurisdictional determination was not final agency action and that landowners would have to either discharge without a permit and then challenge EPA enforcement or apply for a permit and challenge the outcome.

“Given the subjective nature of a determination and the inconsistent application of the Clean Water Act, knowing what is or is not a WOTUS was ripe for challenge,” said Brunner. “The ability to challenge a determination before going through the time-consuming and costly permitting process, or gambling on EPA enforcement, provides a measure of fairness to landowners.”

In his concurrence, Justice Kennedy expressed the Court’s continued concern with the Clean Water Act, “[t]he Act… continues to raise troubling questions regarding the Government’s power to cast doubt on the full use and enjoyment of private property throughout the Nation.” NCBA is committed to continuing its WOTUS lawsuit on behalf of its members.

According to the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF), now, when the Corps asserts jurisdiction over low spots that look more like land than water, it will have to do so with the knowledge that its jurisdictional determination can be tested in court.

“Today’s decision removes a huge roadblock that has prevented landowners from obtaining relief from the courts when the Corps illegally claims their land is federally regulated water,” AFBF President Zippy Duvall said. “Now, farmers and ranchers can have their day in court when the government tells them they cannot plow a field or improve a ditch without a federal permit.”

EPA Releases Waters of the U.S. Rule

waterThe Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) Rule was finalized by EPA and Army Corps on May 27, 2015.  MSGA is currently reviewing the rule, but initially, it appears few changes have been made from the proposed rule. In a number of cases, the rule represents an expansion of federal jurisdiction beyond current practices and the limitations affirmed by the Supreme Court.

The agencies received over 1 million comments on the WOTUS proposal before they closed the second comment period on November 14, 2014. MSGA, working with NCBA, also viewed the new rule as a:

  • Increase in jurisdiction over ephemeral streams
  • New expansive jurisdiction over adjacent waters
  • Many ditches subject to federal regulation

MSGA provided extensive comments in opposition to the proposed rule, including:

  1. Removal of intermittent and ephemeral non-navigable streams from the rule.
  2. Remove the inclusion of ditches in the definition of tributary.
  3. Remove the provision that would make isolated wetlands, ponds and other open waters per se jurisdictional if they are located within a riparian area or floodplain.
  4. Withdraw the Interpretive Rule that limits the Sec. 404 “normal farming, silviculture and ranching” exemption to 56 NRCS practices, which limits landowner protections.

The Agencies have estimated the rule will cost as much as $306 million annually. MSGA is currently working with others to consider possible avenues to rewrite or halt implementation of the rule. Due to the concern over the rule, there are currently two bills in Congress to halt the proposed WOTUS Rule.

The first is the Regulatory Integrity Protection Act (H.R. 1732). This bill calls for the EPA to withdraw their rule and has passed the full House by a bi-partisan vote of 261-155.

In Senate, the Federal Water Quality Protection Act (S. 1140) was introduced to Environment and Public Works Committee. This bill would also require the EPA and Army Corps to withdraw the WOTUS proposal and develop a new proposal that would reach consensus with state and local governments on defining “Waters of the United States.” Senator Steve Daines is cosponsor of S. 1140 legislation.

Montana and 12 Other States Challenge New EPA & Corps of Engineers Regulation

Montana water ranching updatesOn Monday (June 29), Montana Attorney General Tim Fox and 12 other states filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) over the new regulation broadly expanding the definition of “Waters of the U.S.” under the Clean Water Act. The case was filed in the U.S. district court for the District of North Dakota.

In their complaint, the states contend the new definition of “Waters of the U.S.” violates provisions of the Clean Water Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and the United States Constitution.

“Congress and the U.S. Supreme Court have rejected the very regulatory expansion that the EPA and Corps of Engineers are implementing through this new rule,” Attorney General Fox said. “This is yet another example of a federal agency acting by decree to bypass Congress and violate rights of states reserved under the law and the U.S. Constitution.”

The states assert that the EPA’s and Corps’ new rule wrongly broadens federal authority by placing a majority of water and land resource management in the hands of the federal government. Congress and the courts have repeatedly affirmed that the states have primary responsibility for the protection of intrastate waters and land management. The states argue that the burdens created by these new regulations on waters and lands are harmful and will negatively affect farmers, ranchers, and landowners. As a result, landowners will have to seek additional federal permits or face substantial fines and federal criminal enforcement actions.

“Clean water is important to all of us, and we Montanans know how to protect our waters,” Fox said. “Through our state Constitution, the 1971 Water Quality Control Act, and other legislation, we have established strong water protections tailored to the unique needs of our communities. These new federal regulations add a complicated and unnecessary layer of rules.”

The states are asking the court to vacate the rule and enjoin the EPA and Corps from enforcing the new, significantly expanded definition of “Waters of the U.S.”

Senator Brad Hamlett (D-Cascade), chairman of the legislature’s Water Policy Interim Committee, spoke in support of the lawsuit. “Montana’s Constitution states that all of the water that falls and flows within the boundaries of Montana belongs to the state for the beneficial use of its citizens,” Sen. Hamlett said. “Now we have two federal executive branch agencies, the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers, attempting to assert control over Montana state waters by rule. This is, in my opinion, unconstitutional, a deliberate interference with our state’s most valuable resource, and must be stopped dead in its tracks. This is not about clean water, it is about jurisdiction, as Montana being a headwaters state cherishes and protects its waters and knowing the lay of the land and our waters best we definitely, constitutionally, and practically need to remain in control.”

Montana’s local governments and agricultural community also expressed their support of Attorney General Fox’s decision to challenge the new federal regulations.

“The Montana Association of Counties is pleased that Attorney General Fox is joining other states in challenging these new regulations,” said Harold Blattie, executive director of the Montana Association of Counties. “The EPA and Corps failed to consider concerns expressed by over 40 Montana counties about placing an undue burden on their ability to perform routine road maintenance. The final regulation lacks the clarity for counties to even be able to tell which roadside ditches are now under the EPA’s and Corps’ jurisdiction and which are not.”

“In our initial review of the finalized Waters of the U.S. regulation, it represents a significant expansion of federal jurisdiction beyond current practices and the limitations affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court,” said Errol Rice, Executive Vice President of the Montana Stockgrowers Association. “The final regulation ignores state and local efforts to protect these waters and will have major implications for all Montanans. As ranchers who already have practices in place to promote water quality, we see the final regulation as problematic to implement and causing more harm and confusion rather than clarifying the law.”

“Farmers and ranchers are still very concerned with the EPA’s new regulation,” said Nicole Rolf of the Montana Farm Bureau Federation. “It takes power away from state and local governments, while at the same time burdening farmers and ranchers with unnecessary and ridiculous rules. We very much appreciate that Attorney General Tim Fox recognizes these problems and is willing to defend Montanans who make their living raising food.”

The Montana Chamber of Commerce, Montana Building Industry Association, Montana Contractors Association, and the Montana Association of Realtors are also in support of the legal challenge.

Joining Montana in the suit are the states of Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming.

–Press Release, Attorney General Tim Fox


WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Monday, Senator Steve Daines released the following statement on Montana Attorney General Tim Fox and 12 other states’ lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) over the new regulation broadly expanding the definition of the Waters of the United States rule (WOTUS).

“I applaud Attorney General Tim Fox for standing up for Montana farmers, ranchers and small businesses against another egregious power grab by the Obama administration. This rule has the capability to cripple Montana agriculture and natural resources, hurt Montana jobs and threaten Montanans’ property rights.  As this lawsuit moves through the judicial system, I will continue to fight tirelessly against the EPA’s overreach to protect Montana jobs, agriculture and natural resources.”

Daines is a cosponsor of S. 1140, the Federal Water Quality Protection Act that would direct the EPA and Corps to issue a revised WOTUS rule that protects traditional navigable water from water pollution, while also protecting farmers, ranchers and private landowners.

The full text of S.1140 is available here.

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Federal Spending Bill Includes Important Provisions for Producers

WASHINGTON – The House Interior appropriations bill passed through committee on Tuesday, June 16, 30 to 21. The Public Lands Council and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association strongly support the bill, which allocates how federal dollars are spent for the Department of Interior, Environmental Protection Agency, and related agencies during fiscal year 2016. The bill included language that would help provide relief from the regulatory burdens that continue to hamper the productivity and profitability of farmers and ranchers across the country.

From language that blocks the listing of the Sage Grouse, to requiring alternative allotments where ranchers are impacted by drought or wildfire without the need to complete extensive environmental analyses and many others, Dustin Van Liew, PLC and NCBA federal lands executive director, said the provisions are important to keeping livestock producers in business.

This bill would maintain the current grazing fee, fund the range budgets at the same levels as fiscal year 2015 and prohibit funding for the creation of de facto wilderness areas under Secretarial Order 3310. These are all critical in maintaining the viability of federal lands grazing and multiple use.

“This bill contained several priorities for public lands ranchers,” said Van Liew. “Our industry supports the current federal grazing fee formula, which is based on market criteria and accurately reflects the costs of operating on public lands. We also support maintaining range budgets so the agencies can retain staff and work to reduce backlogs, managing the additional burdens of red-tape and frivolous litigation.”

The bill also continues to block listing of the sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act through September 30, 2016.

“Due to a closed-door settlement between United States Fish and Wildlife Service and radical environmental groups, arbitrary deadlines have been set for making hundreds of decisions on species in all fifty states to be listed under the Endangered Species Act,” said Van Liew. “We encourage Congress to provide direction to the agencies to defer to state sage grouse management plans so that land management agencies cannot continue to make decisions that will negatively impact livestock grazing. Research shows that livestock grazing is one of the only tools available to benefit sage grouse habitat; reducing fuel loads and preserving open space.”

Scott Yager, NCBA environmental counsel, commended lawmakers for including language that would help reign in the EPA’s attempt to control even more land and water on private property.

“This committee took the much needed step of defunding the implementation of the EPA’s waters of the United States final rule,” said Yager. “The final rule released by the agency does not satisfy the concerns of cattle producers or land owners. The provisions contained in this legislation send a clear signal to the EPA that they need to start over, working with Congress, land owners, and the states to draft a rule that will work for everyone.”

The committee took a positive step, in line with last year’s bill, by including a provision to withhold funding to any rule that would require mandatory reporting of greenhouse gas emissions from manure management systems. The committee additionally continued to include language preventing EPA from requiring Clean Air Act permits from livestock operations based on greenhouse gas emissions.

PLC and NCBA encourage the full House to take up this bill without delay.

EPA’s Waters of the U.S. Changes Impacts Ranchers and Water Quality

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On Friday November 14th, the Montana Stockgrowers Association (MSGA), Montana Association of State Grazing Districts (MASGD), Montana CattleWomen (MCW) and the Montana Public Lands Council (MPLC), submitted comments to EPA regarding the Proposed Rule regarding the definition of “Waters of the U.S.” under the Clean Water Act .

Montana has long been known as an agricultural state. Farming and Ranching contribute billions to the state’s economy as Montana’s largest business sector. In fact, there are 2.5 cattle for every Montana resident. Over 28,000 farms and ranches are in Montana today, each working every day to conserve and sustain the environment we all call home.

One of the most pressing issues for our members in 2014 has been proposed changes to the Clean Water Act from the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA wants to broaden their definition of “Waters of the U.S.” which would increase their jurisdiction to regulate, not only more water, but also potentially, much of the land surrounding those waterways.

Ranchers rely on clean water for their crops and livestock and are often at the front line of maintaining and improving water quality to sustain and conserve our environment. Irrigation plays a critical role in farming and ranching in Montana, whether it is for growing forages or crops. EPA’s proposed rule could change the agency’s jurisdiction when it comes to regulating both land and water that Montana farmers and ranchers depend on for a living.

As organizations representing farmers and ranchers, who have cared for the land for many generations, we believe our members do a great job of conserving and sustaining a clean water supply, not only for their land, but also for everyone downstream, including water supplies for many wildlife and Montana communities.

Due to the complexity of the issue, there has been a large degree of confusion and uncertainty from the people directly affected by this proposed rule change. In our comments, we requested EPA to drop the proposed rule changes to the Clean Water Act. If the proposed rule cannot be dropped, we provided specific concerns and recommendations for EPA to address.

Our comments included the following:

  1. Remove the expansion of the Clean Water Act to intermittent and ephemeral non-navigable streams, which are defined as tributaries and per se jurisdictional under the proposed rule.
  2. Remove the inclusion of ditches in the definition of tributary.
  3. Remove the provision that would make isolated wetlands, ponds and other open waters per se jurisdictional if they are located within a riparian area or floodplain.
  4. The exclusions and exemptions provided under the proposed rule are unclear and too narrow to provide protections for landowners. Clarification is needed prior to moving forward with a rule.
  5. Due to inadequate input from landowners, we request the agency to immediately withdraw the Interpretive Rule that limits the Sec. 404 “normal farming, silviculture and ranching” exemption to 56 NRCS practices.
  6. The proposed rule usurps states’ rights to manage waters and land use activity. This proposed rule is an overreach that makes all waters federal, violating the Commerce Clause of the Constitution and the plain language of the Clean Water Act.
  7. Due to the proposed rule ambiguities and uncertainty, we request the agencies withdraw the rule.
  8. We would encourage the agencies to engage in meaningful discussions with the states to better define the areas, if there are any, that states feel are deficient in meeting water quality standards.

Montana’s water laws are very comprehensive, do a good job of regulating the quantity of water used by agriculture, and ensure that water quality remains a priority when it comes to impacts on our environment, wildlife and surrounding communities.

The EPA’s proposed actions on this rule making process are a strong reminder to ranchers and members of the agriculture community of the need to remain actively involved in the policymaking processes, working to keep state and federal agencies aware of the continual improvements taking place, so that we may continue being good stewards of our environment and resources.

Montana Stockgrowers Association encourages, you as members, to remain active in your communities, and be engaged in conversations surrounding these critical issues that affect our ability to produce food, fiber and fuel products for Montanans and a growing global population.  As this rule making process moves forward, MSGA will provide any updates as they become available.  We would also like to thank the members who provided additional comments on this very important issue.For further questions, please contact Jay Bodner at the MSGA office at (406) 442-3420. A complete copy of the comments submitted can be viewed by visiting http://bit.ly/WOTUScomments.

Fall Update for Northeast Montana Ranching

jim steinbeisser, sidney montanaWhat a year we are having in the cattle business with prices never seen before!  Many of us have wondered just how much our consumers will be willing to pay for beef.  Well, apparently a healthy amount!  With this increase in prices comes an increase in pressure to produce a better, more consistent product.  We in Montana and the Northern Plains in general, lead the industry in producing high quality beef but there is always room for improvement.  Now is not the time to rest on our laurels but a time to invest in better genetics and improve our management practices overall.

We have some challenges before us especially in the area of government encroachment of our private property rights.  Case in point is the EPA’s attempt to expand the types of water and land that would be subject to federal permit requirements as well as expanding the regulations on farming and ranching practices on our own land! The comment period has been extended to Nov. 14th (today).  Go to www2.epa.gov/uswaters to register your comments to this rule.  Feel free to contact me or the MSGA office if you have any questions.

Another challenge to our private property rights is the sage grouse issue and the potential of it being listed as an endangered species.  It has been said that the sage grouse could have a major impact on ranching in the western U.S.  We have anti-grazing folks using this issue to get cattle off of federal lands.  Don’t be fooled.  This could have serious impacts on private lands as well.  MSGA has been engaged with this issue from the beginning and will continue to be.

This fall is sure looking good in eastern Montana.  We’ve had some late summer and early fall rains and now some early snow.  Our weaning weights should be good.

I wish you all a great fall and I look forward to visiting with you at our affiliate meetings and convention in December.

–Jim Steinbeisser, Sidney, MSGA Northeast District Director

EPA Hands Over Maps Detailing the Extent of their WOTUS Proposal

EPA WOTUS Montana Expansion MapWASHINGTON (Aug. 27, 2014) –The House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology released maps today of waters and wetlands the Environmental Protection Agency has to-date refrained from making public. After multiple requests, the Agency finally handed over the maps to the committee, which appear to detail the extent of the “Waters of the United States” proposal.

“Given the astonishing picture they paint, I understand the EPA’s desire to minimize the importance of these maps,” said Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), Chairman of the House Science Committee, in a letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. “But EPA’s posturing cannot explain away the alarming content of these documents. While you claim that EPA has not yet used these maps to regulate Americans, you provided no explanation for why the Agency used taxpayer resources to have these materials created.”

Knowledge of the maps came as the Committee was doing research in preparation for a hearing regarding the proposed “Waters of the United States” rule. The maps were kept hidden while the Agencies marched forward with rulemaking that fundamentally re-defines private property rights, said Chairman Smith.

“It is deplorable that EPA, which claims to be providing transparency in rulemakings, would intentionally keep from the American public, a taxpayer-funded visual representation of the reach of their proposed rule,” said Ashley McDonald, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association environmental counsel. “Unfortunately, it is just another blatant contradiction to the claims of transparency this Administration insists they maintain.”

These maps are very similar to the maps produced by NCBA and other agricultural groups, which also showcase the EPA’s extensive attempt to control land across the country. These maps show individual states facing upwards of 100,000 additional stream miles that could be regulated under the proposed regulation.

“This is the smoking gun for agriculture,” said McDonald. “These maps show that EPA knew exactly what they were doing and knew exactly how expansive their proposal was before they published it.”

The maps are available on the House Committee website here. The Montana map is available by clicking here (maps are large files and may take a few seconds to load).

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EPA changes to Waters of U.S., Beef Sustainability and Checkoff Increases | Podcast

solar filled water tankOn today’s post we follow up with a podcast from the recent summer cattle industry conference held in Denver, Colorado. A broad range of issues were discussed at the meeting, but the subject drawing the most conversation was EPA‘s proposed changes to the Waters of the U.S. rule. We provided a preliminary analysis of the proposed rule changes in an earlier blog post. Click here to read more.

Ariel Overstreet-Adkins, who has been working on comments for the issue on behalf of MSGA, attended the meeting and shared a few comments. “Some of the major concerns the panelists brought up are some of the same concerns we’ve had while looking at this proposal. These include the broad definition of tributary, the change of definition of adjacent to include all waters and not just wetlands, and a really undefined catch all of other waters. Across the board, this rule seems to increase uncertainty, even though the EPA says they’re trying to make things more certain. We believe this is going to be costly for many industries across the U.S. and not just agriculture.”

The Property Rights and Environmental Management committee members also passed a resolution to lead the development of a beef sustainability program, inclusive of the beef value chain and stakeholders, which addresses the continued advancement in areas such as economic viability, production efficiencies, animal care and handling, environmental conservation, human resources and community support. MSGA believes this is a positive move for the industry to establish and verify sustainable practices most ranchers already utilize.

The Cattlemen’s Beef Board and Committees concerning the Beef Checkoff also held meetings while in Denver. One of the highlights of those meetings comes from a working group looking at the proposed Checkoff increase to $2 per head. Several industry groups are working together on a proposal for changes.

Listen to the podcast below for more on these topics. This is just the second portion of our podcast covering the recent summer industry meetings in Denver. Stay tuned for our next podcast where we’ll talk about important policy issues discussed during the meetings, including cattle health issues including disease concerns surround the import of foreign beef and changes to the FDA’s antibiotic labeling rules. We’ll also find out more about CattleFax’s outlook for the cattle industry.

Preliminary analysis of EPA/Corp’s Waters of the U.S. Proposed Rule

environmental protection agency epa logoAriel Overstreet-Adkins, MSGA legal/policy intern, has been working this summer to evaluate the EPA WOTUS rule changes. To learn more, contact the MSGA office, (406) 442-3420. To submit comments, visit www2.epa.gov/uswaters before October 20, 2014.

MSGA is currently undertaking a comprehensive legal analysis of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) proposed change regarding the definition of Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) under the Clean Water Act (CWA). We hope to have our comments drafted by the end of August  to provide members with guidance about submitting your own comments, which are due by October 20. The proposed language itself is only about a page and a half in length. [View our online newsletter to read] The language would apply to 12 different sections in the Code of Federal Regulations. MSGA is also engaging with the Interpretative Rule that accompanied this proposed rule (see side bar).

One thing is certain as MSGA engages in a preliminary analysis; this proposed rule does not achieve the EPA and Corps’ goals of clarity and simplicity. There are many ambiguous words and phrases that could be interpreted in any of a number of ways. Our main areas of concern are on the definition of tributary which would include ditches. There are a couple of exemptions as it relates to ditches, but we are unsure how applicable those will be in Montana. Important words in the proposal are not defined, such as “upland,” “significant” in significant nexus, “other waters,” and “through another water.” The role of groundwater is also a murky area. While the EPA claims this rule does not regulate groundwater (and the CWA itself specifically says it does not) the new rule proposal includes language about “shallow subsurface hydrologic connection” between two bodies of water. That phrase is not defined and leaves confusion about the role of groundwater, whether it is regulated under this proposal, or if it can be used to establish a connection between two bodies of water with no surface connection for the sake of regulation.

Our biggest question at this point is what are we doing so poorly in the state of Montana that the EPA feels they need to obtain more jurisdiction over our waters? We have strong laws and regulations in the Montana and ranchers work hard to protect the land and the water that is so vital to their everyday operations. Our constitution recognizes and confirms existing rights to any waters for any useful or beneficial purpose and states that “all surface, underground, flood, and atmospheric waters within the boundaries of the state are the property of the state for the use of its people and are subject to appropriation for beneficial uses as provided by law.” (Article IX, Section 3(3)).

MSGA will continue to grapple with these questions as we analyze this proposed rule and its potential impacts on ranching in Montana. Earlier this month, MSGA staff attended the Montana Legislature’s Water Policy Interim Committee in Helena where this rule was discussed. Staff also had an excellent conversation with Senator Jon Tester’s staff about the proposed rule and our concerns.

To read the full proposal and other documents (including the EPA’s scientific and economic analyses); visit the EPA’s website at www2.epa.gov/uswaters.  If you have any questions or comments about the proposal, especially comments about how this proposal might affect you personally, please call Ariel at (406) 930-1317 or send an email to arieloverstreet@gmail.com.