A report issued today by a U.S. Senate committee documents how federal agencies overreach their authority to regulate farmland, according to the California Farm Bureau Federation, which said the report underlines the need for congressional action to reform the agencies’ practices.
The report from the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee describes numerous incidents in which the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Environmental Protection Agency have tried to expand their authority to regulate what crops farmers grow and how they grow them, based on the agencies’ interpretation of the Clean Water Act.
“A disturbing number of the cases described in the Senate report came from California,” CFBF President Paul Wenger said. “Farmers and ranchers here have seen firsthand that the abuses outlined in this report aren’t theoretical—they’re real.”
Landowners’ concerns stem from a rule the agencies finalized last year, known as the “waters of the United States” or WOTUS rule, which would bring more waterways under jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act. Although a federal court has temporarily halted enforcement of the WOTUS rule, landowners and their representatives say the Corps continues to enforce the act so narrowly that, as a practical matter, its actions mirror the intent of the new rule.
“We’re grateful the Senate committee has highlighted the impact on farmers and ranchers caused by overzealous interpretation of the Clean Water Act,” Wenger said. “Farmers and ranchers want to do the right thing and protect the environment as they farm. But they shouldn’t be tied up in knots by regulators for simply plowing their ground or considering a new crop on their land, and they shouldn’t have their land declared off limits if they must leave it idle due to drought or other conditions beyond their control.”
Wenger called on California’s two senators to join efforts to clarify Clean Water Act enforcement and reform agency practices.
“Congress has the ability to restore balance to Clean Water Act enforcement,” he said. “We urge our California members to help farmers grow food and protect the environment, free from fear of overreaching regulation.”
The California Farm Bureau Federation works to protect family farms and ranches on behalf of more than 53,000 members statewide and as part of a nationwide network of more than 6.2 million Farm Bureau members.