EPA’s Regan Defends WOTUS Implementation, AFB Slams New H-2A Migrant Labor Rules

Regulatory overreach was at the top of concerns for lawmakers and farm leaders this week, as both EPA and Labor Department rules drew renewed attention.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan told a House panel his agency and the Army Corps are implementing a revised Waters of the U.S. or WOTUS rule that complies with last year’s Supreme Court ruling. Regan said, “We’ve codified the clarifications, codified and clarified exclusions in support of farmers, like prior-converted cropland, and for ranchers, like the artificial ponds used for drinking water. A lot of good things that were preserved, as well.”

Regan says the Army Corps resumed WOTUS determinations after the EPA revised its much-criticized earlier rule. That, after the Supreme Court rejected 9-0 last May, EPA’s ‘significant nexus test’ in favor of an ‘observable surface connection’ to a navigable water to define a wetland. He says, “We are following the prescribed direction of the Supreme Court and want to ensure that we provide certainty to our states, as soon as possible.”

The American Farm Bureau charged EPA’s final rule was vague in defining ditches or other farm features that fill with water only sometimes, using a vestige of a much earlier Supreme Court ruling to preserve regulatory intent.

Separately, AFB says the Labor Department is “burying farmers and other H-2A employers” in 3,000 pages of rules in the last 18 months, including 600 pages just last week. AFB’s John Walt Boatright says H-2A rules and costs are already hard enough to meet.

Boatright says, “These new rules just exacerbate those regulatory burdens and those costs even further. So, it’s going to lead to a lot of farmers, particularly small family farms, to have to make some pretty significant decisions.”

Boatright says only Congress can reform Ag labor laws but has failed to do so for decades as the migrant Ag labor issue became entangled in the broader, politically charged debate over illegal immigration.

Story courtesy of NAFB News Service and Matt Kaye/Berns Bureau Washington