The National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) urged the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to allow more time to examine a controversial draft regulation expanding the waterways subject to regulation under the federal Clean Water Act.
“It is imperative that the EPA go about this effort in the right way, in light of the potential impact of this measure on dairy farmers,” NMPF’s President and CEO, Jim Mulhern, wrote in a letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and Jo-Ellen Darcy, the Assistant Secretary of the Army. “It would be a disservice to farmers to rush this proposal through the review process without sufficient scientific support or time to better understand the complexities of the issue.”
NMPF, which represents dairy farmers producing most of the nation’s milk supply, asked that the public comment period on the draft regulation be extended at least 90 days.
Unveiled in March, the draft regulation expands the waterways covered under the 1972 Clean Water Act to nearly all those connected to U.S. navigable waters. Opponents, many of whom have urged EPA to withdraw the regulation, argue it would have a devastating impact, particularly on agriculture.
NMPF cited two reasons for requesting more time to consider the regulation: First, the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers have not completed the report providing the scientific underpinning for the regulation; and second, many of the key concepts discussed in the draft are unclear or subject to interpretation by government regulators.
“In order for dairy farmers to understand, assess and adequately comment on the proposed changes, the science behind the WOTUS proposal must be clear and conclusive,” NMPF wrote. But the proposal relies on the scientific conclusions of a draft EPA report still under review by the agency’s Science Advisory Board (SAB).
Where the matter of key concepts is concerned, the proposal uses terms such as “neighboring,’’ ‘‘riparian area,’’ ‘‘floodplain,’’ ‘‘tributary,’’ and ‘‘significant nexus.”
“These terms are as clear as muddy water, and, therefore, will create confusion for dairy producers,” Mulhern said. Additionally, the proposed rule heavily relies on “best professional judgment” in application of these and other terms, potentially creating a great deal of uncertainty both for regulators and those regulated.
“Dairy farmers are committed to protecting U.S. waters both voluntarily and under the Clean Water Act,” said Mulhern in the letter sent Friday.
“Given the scope and complexities of the proposed rule and its supporting documents, NMPF requests an extension of the comment period, either to 90 days beyond the current deadline, or 90 days beyond EPA’s release of the final connectivity report” providing scientific basis for the regulation, the organization said.