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KANSAS CITY, Mo. (DTN) -- EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy knows she has a lot of damage to repair in the agency's relationship with agriculture -- a relationship that continues to be strained by a gap between what she said was the intent of the proposed Clean Water Act rule and the outcry coming from rural America.
McCarthy wrapped up a two-day tour across Missouri, first talking to farmers near Columbia and ending with a speech before the Agricultural Business Council of Kansas City Thursday. The EPA head looked weary as she sat down for an interview with DTN prior to the Kansas City speech.
Farm groups have feared that the new rule would give EPA authority to regulate tributaries, streams, even ditches and small ponds, on U.S. farms, and that any farm activities around those structures that could, even tenuously, be linked to changes in water quality downstream would also be regulated.
EPA's relationship with agriculture has been strained on a number of fronts, and McCarthy said she realizes it won't be easy convincing farmers that nothing will change on the farm if the new rule is finalized.
She said the outcry from across farm country caught her by surprise. The U.S. Soybean Federation, in a statement earlier in the day, requested that EPA "demonstrate some agricultural common sense and goodwill," and throw out the CWA interpretive rule entirely.
"We really didn't see the changes we're making in this proposal as having a significant impact on the agriculture community," McCarthy said. "We have kept the exemptions and the exceptions that are currently in the law that allow farmers to keep performing those farm practices that they've always been doing."
There will be waters on ag land that are jurisdictional, meaning they could be regulated, she said. "It doesn't mean that as a result of this that you're going to need a permit for anything."
McCarthy said agriculture needs to provide information to her agency about specifics in the language causing concern.
"I'm not going to allow confusion to continue. We're just going to get the clarity we need in the end. But it'll be a process getting there."
McCarthy said she believes farmers and EPA are on the same page when it comes to protecting water.
"They're wanting certainty in the way we have written the rule," she told DTN. "How is it going to be implemented?" The agency needs to better understand agricultural practices "So that we can understand what waters might actually have a significant impact on downstream and waters that we don't need to worry about."
McCarthy told a luncheon crowd of more than 150 representatives of agribusinesses and non-profit groups that she recognizes not all farms are the same. "I'm beginning to understand the kind of conversations we need to have between EPA and the ag community," she said. "Nothing is easy. I know that no one understands the importance of water quality better than the agriculture community."
She said the time has come to change the notion that EPA and the agriculture community can't "come to an agreement."
McCarthy said EPA recognizes that the Clean Water Act has to take science into account when it comes to how small water bodies are connected to larger water bodies. The rule, she said, isn't about "connecting the dots."