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Farm Bureau Ducks NRDC Challenge to Debate Clean Water Rule

WASHINGTON (July 15, 2014)—The American Farm Bureau Federation has tried to duck a challenge from the Natural Resources Defense Council to a public debate over the bureau’s willful misrepresentations regarding a new clean water proposal, which is now under assault by House Republicans. But today the NRDC repeated its call for an “open debate” on the issue.

In a letter last week to Farm Bureau President Robert Stallman, NRDC Senior Attorney Jon Devine said that the Farm Bureau’s repeated “inflammatory” and “outlandish” allegations, aimed at frightening farmers, have obscured debate over the new rule, which was proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in April. It clarifies that small streams and nearby wetlands are covered by the Clean Water Act. Devine challenged Stallman to “an honest discussion about this initiative,” with a mutually agreed-
upon moderator.

“People are entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts,” Devine said. “We need a public debate about what’s actually in the rule, not what the Farm Bureau propagandists conjure up. They talk like the proposal is a radical departure from normal practice, when in truth it would restore safeguards for long-protected waterways and would protect fewer water bodies than the law had traditionally covered.”

But in a response to NRDC Monday from Senior Counsel Danielle Quist, the American Farm Bureau Federation ducked the debate challenge, saying it would only discuss the issue with “the [federal] agencies, the public and our elected officials.”

Fueled in part by an aggressive Farm Bureau campaign against the Clean Water Protection Rule, Republican House members are expected to approve a barrage of bills attacking clean water this week that would block EPA from finalizing the proposal and implementing other safeguards under the Clean Water Act. Some of them will come in a House committee mark-up scheduled for Wednesday.

The streams covered by the proposal provide water to the drinking supplies of 117 million Americans and had been protected by federal law since the days of President Reagan. Wetlands filter pollution and capture flood water, which is why they too had long been protected.  Court decisions in 2001 and 2006 have created confusion over the scope of the act’s pollution control programs, which the new rule clarifies and restores.

However, the American Farm Bureau Federation has claimed on its website and elsewhere that EPA would take over all farming and land use, control “virtually all water,” and even regulate puddles and wet spots. EPA administrator Gina McCarthy called some of allegations “just silly.”

NRDC still wants a public debate. Replying to Quist, NRDC’s Devine in a letter Tuesday accused the Farm Bureau of flooding legislators “with misleading material and then refusing opportunities to have a genuine exchange of ideas.”

Poll after poll shows that the American public strongly supports the Clean Water Act, and the unfounded attacks by the American Farm Bureau Federation and others against the Clean Water Protection Rule have gone largely unchallenged in the press.

See Jon Devine’s July 10 letter to the Farm Bureau here: http://docs.nrdc.org/water/files/wat_14071501a.pdf

See the Farm Bureau’s response dated July 14: http://docs.nrdc.org/water/files/wat_14071503a.pdf

And see Jon Devine’s July 15 letter to the Farm Bureau here: http://docs.nrdc.org/water/files/wat_14071502a.pdf

For more information about the recent attacks against the Clean Water Protection Rule, see Jon Devine’s blog:

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 2 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, and Beijing. Visit us at www.nrdc.org and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.

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