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Stop the EPA Land Grab

By Pete Bonds, president, Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is a broken record that won't turn off.

EPA administrators are again proposing to redefine which waters will come under federal jurisdiction through a new definition of "waters of the United States" under the Clean Water Act.

What they really want to do is expand their authority so wide that virtually any body of water could fall under their jurisdiction. And by any, I mean ditches, ponds and puddles.

They don't want to go through Congress. They've tried that twice and failed. They'd rather circumvent lawmakers and do this through a rulemaking process — also known as shoving it down our throats.
On March 25, 2014, the EPA released their newest proposed rule of what qualifies as "waters of the United States." Their definition is vague and broad. One can only conclude that every wet spot in the country would fall under their jurisdiction.

This is not good for landowners.

If adopted, every tributary will be a classified as a "water of the United States." For the first time, the definition of tributary will include ditches, ponds and streams that hold water only when it rains.

If there is a wet spot in a flood plain, it will be under federal jurisdiction. This includes ditches, ponds, man-made conveyances, streams that hold water only when it rains, wet areas on pastures or any other wet area in a flood plain.

Waters that are geographically isolated from other waters "could" come under federal jurisdiction. Basically, the government will control anything wet, clear down to the water dripping off my cowboy hat.

If you're confused about what may be regulated on your property, you should be. You'll likely need permits for some wet areas and not others and the determining authority will be a regulator. These permits can cost around $30,000 and take a year to get.

This process could prevent pesticide applications, pasture maintenance, construction projects and many other activities that happen on ranches every day.

There are some exclusions that directly affect the cattle industry. These include exclusions for artificial ponds used exclusively for stock watering; ditches that are excavated wholly in uplands, drain only uplands and have less than perennial flow; and ditches that do not contribute flow, either directly or through another water, to a traditional navigable water, interstate water, the territorial seas or an impoundment of a jurisdictional water.

Confused yet? Me, too.

The way I understand it is basically every wet spot on your property will need to be analyzed to see if it meets all the criteria for one of these exclusions.

And if you mess up?

You'll likely be sued by someone. Anyone from your neighbor to an environmentalist who doesn't like what you are doing has the authority to sue you. That's how the law reads in its current form and these vague definitions make that even more of a possibility.

It's a bad situation, but we can work to stop it. Tell the EPA why this rule is bad for the Texas cattle industry and for anyone who owns private property. It must be stopped.

Read page 80 for instructions on submitting comments on this proposed regulation. Tell your colleagues and representatives about the devastating impacts this regulation would have on agriculture. Demand that it be stopped.

"Issues and Policy: Where We Stand" is from the July 2014 issue of The Cattleman magazine.