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Environmental Regulations Impacting Agriculture

At a recent meeting one of the topics covered were environmental regulations of agriculture.  Currently the Clean Water Act, Resource Conservation Recovery Act, and the Endangered Species Act are the primary laws impacting agricultue.  Recent changes in the Waters of the US (WOTUS) definition raised alarm in the agricultural community.  According to the EPA the definition change does not change regulations on agriculture but recently 27 states have filed suit over the WOTUS definition changes.  Problems arise with EPA and the Corps of Engineers’ definition of tributaries, adjacent waters, other waters, and significant nexus.  Many think the new definitions will allow EPA and the Corps of Engineers to regulate every single water droplet in the US.  Another major concern for agriculture is the suit by Des Moines Water Works against Sac County et al.  If Des Moines Water Works prevails, the case will have a   major impact on agriculture, non point pollution, and drainage districts.

Resource Conservation Recovery Act (RCRA) was enacted by Congress in 1976.  The purpose of the law is to protect human health and the natural environment from the potential hazards of waste disposal, reduce the amount of waste generated, and ensure the management of waste in an environmentally sound manner.  A recent ruling found manure to be a solid waste while other cases in the past considered manure “beneficial by-product.”  This ruling increased the likelihood more citizen suits will be brought against dairy and livestock operations under RCRA.

Last but not least environmental regulation impacting agriculture is the Endangered Species Act (ESA).  The purpose of this Act is to protect and recover imperiled species and the ecosystems upon which they depend.  A major problem with the ESA is that a landowner’s property could fall under ESA rules if the land is suitable for an endangered species even though the species has never inhabited the land.

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