By Tim Pearce
Environmentalists are after records of meetings between the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and members of the agriculture industry over repealing part of the Clean Water Act.
The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) filed a Freedom of Information Act request Wednesday seeking any notes on EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s meetings with representatives of “industrial agriculture.”
“Americans have the right to know how cozy Big Ag has gotten with the EPA,” CBD Spokeswoman Jennifer Molidor said in a press release Wednesday. “We need to understand how polluters are influencing the agency tasked with protecting our environment.”
The EPA announced in June it was working with the Army Corps of Engineers to rescind an Obama-era edition to the Clean Water Act. The “Waters of the U.S.” rule, or WOTUS, defines federally protected bodies of water, but is not consistently applied, according to the EPA.
“We are taking significant action to return power to the states and provide regulatory certainty to our nation’s farmers and businesses,” Pruitt said in a statement.
Pruitt went on a tour of states with heavy investment in agriculture, getting input for changes to WOTUS from agriculture interests in each.
“By beginning the process to redefine WOTUS, EPA is providing regulatory certainty for farmers, ranchers, and landowners while respecting the traditional oversight role of states to help keep water clean,” Pruitt said after meetings in Iowa.
Molidor accused Pruitt of conducting a single-sided campaign catering to one interest group.
“The EPA exists to protect Americans, not the interests of big polluters,” said Molidor. “These records will shed light on how these industries are influencing legal safeguards that keep our waterways clean.”
EPA Spokeswoman Liz Bowman defended Pruitt’s meetings.
“Administrator Pruitt strongly believes it’s important to meet with stakeholders adversely affected by burdensome regulations – especially America’s farmers, ranchers and landowners,” Bowman said in an email to The Daily Caller News Foundation.
A recent case in California involving WOTUS resulted in a farmer settling with the Army Corps of Engineers for $1.1 million in penalties for plowing over vernal pools, or seasonal ponds, on his land. The farmer, John Duarte, faced up to $45 million in fines for allegedly violating the Clean Water Act.
“John would have preferred to see this case through to trial and appealed the court’s liability ruling, which holds that plowing a field requires federal permission — despite the clear text of the Clean Water Act and regulations to the contrary,” one of Duarte’s attorneys, the Pacific Legal Foundation’s Anthony Francois, said in a statement.
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