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Local farmer has major concerns with EPA’s ‘Waters of the U.S.’ rule

—By Kyle Cline
Public Policy Team

If the EPA’s proposed Clean Water Act rule is allowed to be implemented as currently written, entire farming operations could be disrupted, making it very difficult, if not impossible, to carry out many “normal” farming practices, according to Martinsville grain and cattle farmer Norman Voyles Jr.

“What really concerns me about this rule is that virtually every practice associated with my cattle operation and much of my grain operation could be subject to extensive EPA regulation that could cost me money and time and – worst case – make it impossible to run my farm,” he said.

Given the natural features of Voyles’ pasture, his cows must cross a stream when relocating to another area of the pasture, a common practice used to enhance animal nutrition while protecting the environment. Voyles, who is the current president-elect of the Indiana Beef Cattleman’s Association, is also concerned about several small natural gullies that carry small, temporary amounts of water to the stream that divides the pasture. But the gullies do have banking and a high-water mark, two features that the EPA is using to determine if the feature can be regulated.

“Will I be able to continue making the management decisions that work best for my operation and are also the best environmentally, such as rotating grazing patterns? Will I have to spend enormous resources to fence off most of the stream and keep cows from the gullies? Is a cow going to be considered a “point source” for pollution?” Voyles asked. “The scary part is that we don’t know at this point, but the EPA is trying to move forward with their one-size fits all plan without defining the details.”

The proposed rule attempts to expand the current definition of “Waters of the United States” to include waters such as small, isolated wetlands, ephemeral drains and many ditches. Currently, EPA regulatory oversight only includes “navigable” waters, a legal interpretation that has been confirmed twice by the U.S. Supreme Court.Despite major reservations with the flawed EPA rule, Voyles was quick to add that he is not against all environmental regulation, but rather, supports a local approach to the regulation of water that better reflects the types of farms and land features in a given region or watershed.

“Government has become way too large over time and this proposed rule represents additional growth and overreach of the federal government. One size does not fit all when you talk about regulation of natural resources and water because of the diversity across the U.S. IDEM (Indiana Department of Environmental Management) is in a much better position to regulate these features than the federal government. The EPA is simply trying to overstep Congress and state regulators to achieve their ill-defined goals.”

As Voyles looks into the future, he is concerned about agriculture and the challenges that threaten the special way of life that has given so much back to his family.

“My multi-generational farm began as a homestead farm established here in 1828. This farm and the land have given back to us enormously and have contributed to our way of life, one that is unlike any other opportunity. But the core values of independence, sound stewardship of resources, and pride that define farming are under fire by the EPA and other government efforts.”

“I have a much better appreciation for what works best for caring for my land than someone in some office looking at a topographical map or even making a one-time survey,” Voyles said. “My family and animals live off of the land and resources. My neighbors depend on me to take care of the water, land, and produce the best beef possible. That is a charge I take very seriously, one that the EPA clearly does not understand.”

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