Talking water issues with Congress, U.S. EPA

This week, OFBF provided written testimony for a water quality hearing in Washington, D.C., and state OFBF board members talked with lawmakers about water issues.

OFBF submitted testimony to John Shimkus, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy. A House panel was set up earlier this year to investigate the causes of the harmful algal blooms (HABs) on Lake Erie that caused nearly half a million people in Toledo to be without drinking water for two days in August.

In its testimony, Ohio Farm Bureau said farmers have not been “sitting idly by” and have been working on short- and long-term solutions to Lake Erie’s problems. OFBF detailed its $1 million commitment to a water quality action plan, the launch of the Healthy Water Ohio initiative and state legislation that it has worked on including Senate Bill 150, which requires all qualifying farmers to obtain certification training if applying fertilizer on more than 50 acres.

“”We should consider water quality and food production simultaneously. Clean water cannot come at the expense of food production nor can farming trump the need for clean water,” OFBF President Steve Hirsch wrote in his testimony.

While in Washington this week, state board trustees Roger Baker and Paul Davidson talked about water issues with Ohio members of Congress, including Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Marietta, who is a member of the House panel investigating HABs on Lake Erie. During the meeting, both trustees expressed farmers’ willingness to do their part on water quality but also their frustration that other contributors have not been as transparent. The next day during the subcommittee hearing, Johnson asked the panel what was being done about non-agricultural sources. This was a great example of how OFBF’s Friends of Agriculture share our message when we work at delivering it.

On a separate water issue, OFBF filed comments earlier this month with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, asking it to withdraw its proposal to expand its jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act. American Farm Bureau is urging the Senate to support a House bill that would block implementation of the Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule.

Under the proposed rule, EPA would be able to regulate small and remote waters, many of which are only seasonally wet or only wet after a heavy rain. OFBF said in its comments that state and local officials have been left out of the drafting of the proposed rule, which if implemented, would impede ongoing efforts to advance innovative, state-based water quality initiatives.

“Many Ohio farmers would be forced to gain Federal permits not only to conduct the everyday actions of planting and harvesting a crop but to install water quality infrastructure projects,” OFBF said in its comments. “These unrealistic, costly and time-consuming requirements would discourage agricultural producers from undertaking the very projects that would improve water quality throughout the State.”