Administrator Gina McCarthy, Remarks at National Corn Growers Association, As Prepared
Good afternoon, and thanks, Chip. It’s great to be here. Chip has kindly invited me to his farm—I haven’t made it there yet, but I did visit several other farms across the country last year when we proposed the Clean Water Rule.
Those visits, along with other farm visits EPA officials went on in Arizona, Colorado, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Vermont; more than 400 public meetings; and over a million public comments – helped shape the final Clean Water Rule. We heard you, and we made changes.
In the final rule, we spelled out in black and white that it does not apply to the everyday farming an ranching activities you do to produce the food, fuel and fiber we rely on.
I asked Chip to share that message with his members, and he suggested I tell you myself - which is why I’m here today.
Farmers are America’s original conservationists. You know healthy land and clean water are the foundation of your livelihood; you care more than anybody about being good stewards. At EPA, that’s our mission, too—protecting public health and the environment. And we’re in the business of cleaning up pollution in a way that grows the economy.
In the 45 years since EPA’s founding, we’ve cleaned up 70 percent of our nation’s air pollution and hundreds of thousands of miles of waterways, and meanwhile our nation’s economy has tripled.
In the same way, over the last hundred years, your business has been getting more and more advanced—and today, with precision agriculture, you get better yields with less water, less pesticide, and less fertilizer than ever before.
So EPA and farmers share a commitment to working smarter. You produce the corn we use for food, fiber, and fuel—quite simply, we all depend on you, and I’m grateful for all you do. Today I want to speak to 2 major issues we all care about: the Renewable Fuel Standard, and the Clean Water Rule I mentioned earlier.
First, the RFS. I know the RFS matters deeply to corn growers, so I want to address it head-on. We held a public hearing on the RFS in Kansas City last month, and I want to thank the National Corn Growers for turning out in force—we appreciate your passion and your commitment.
I want you to know that despite some of the overheated criticism out there, EPA is deeply committed to the RFS. We’re committed to an industry that helps us cut carbon pollution, grow jobs in rural America, and reduce our dependence on foreign oil.
So look—you might’ve heard we’re trying to shrink or kill this program. But the truth is, we’re committed to growing it. The volumes we’ve proposed for 2015 and 2016 are designed to bust through the blend wall.
Our proposed 2016 standard for total renewable fuel is about 1.5 billion gallons more—almost 10 percent higher—than the actual 2014 volumes. And the proposed 2016 standard for cellulosic ethanol is 6 times higher than what the market produced in 2014. So EPA isn’t just promoting growth; we’re pushing the envelope.
At the same time, we cannot be in the business of setting unattainable standards. 2014 is over, which is why our proposal includes actual volumes from last year’s ethanol market.
Let’s keep in mind, the biofuels industry is a great American success story. We are the world’s largest producer and consumer of biofuels, and we’ve used more renewable fuel than all other countries combined. So what our proposal aims to do is build on that success to spur ambitious but responsible growth.
We know the delay last year in getting these standards out was disruptive to say the least. I apologize for that.
But we think the current proposal puts the program on a sustainable path forward – or we would not have proposed it. And we’re eager to work with you and to listen to everyone’s concerns and comments.
That’s why we went to Kansas City, and that’s why I’m here today. To encourage you to continue to keep taking advantage of the public comment period, which is open until July 27th. That way we’ll be able to base the final standards on all the best information and data available.
Your input will make the rule better so when we finalize it by November 30th of this year, we can be confident that RFS is back on track to meet Congress’ intent to significantly increase biofuel use, lower greenhouse gas emissions and improve energy security in this country.
I know you also care deeply about the Clean Water Rule. We’re in a year where an extreme drought is devastating California, while parts of Texas and the great plains face historic flooding—all with major implications for agriculture.
With more extreme weather across the country, it’s more important than ever that we protect our water resources. And we know that for the lakes and rivers we love to be clean, the streams and wetlands that feed them have to be clean too.
That’s why this May, EPA and the Army Corps finalized a Clean Water Rule to protect the streams and wetlands that 1 in 3 Americans rely on for drinking water. We did it without creating any new permitting requirements, and while maintaining all previous exemptions and exclusions.
That’s a very important point I want to make clear. We actually added exclusions for features like artificial lakes and ponds, water-filled depressions from construction, and grass swales—just to make it crystal clear that we’re not getting in the way of agriculture in this rule. We’ve spelled that out in black and white.
Keep in mind, what the Clean Water Act does is make it illegal to pollute or destroy a covered water without a permit. If you’re not doing either of those things, you do not need a permit, no matter the water’s status. The law only applies to water, not land, and normal farming and ranching practices continue to be excluded.
But following two Supreme Court decisions, the agencies had to operate in the face of significant uncertainty, which not only left our water vulnerable to pollution; it cost taxpayers and businesses money. Needless to say, this lack of clarity had to change. Everyone knew it—members of Congress, the Supreme Court, farmers, ranchers, small business owners, hunters, anglers, and others.
So our rule makes clear which waters are covered, and which ones are not, based on the law and the latest science. So here’s what the new rule does in a nutshell:
Traditional navigable waters like rivers and lakes, interstate waters, and territorial seas are covered. This has always been the case.
Jurisdictional tributaries are limited for the first time - to only those with the physical characteristics that indicate it has enough flow to warrant protection - because it could degrade the quality of downstream waters.
This rule makes it abundantly clear that we do not regulate erosional features created by rain or storms – like gullies and rills in your fields. These features do not meet the narrower definition of tributary and are not included - bringing needed clarity that everyone has been looking for.
The rule does not bring new ditches into jurisdiction. Ditches have always been in the law. But what this rule does - for the first time - is clearly limit protection to ditches that are constructed out of streams or function like streams and can carry pollution downstream. It specifically excludes ditches that only flow after it rains.
We’ve also provided certainty on how far safeguards extend to nearby waters--the rule sets physical, measurable limits on covering nearby waters for the first time. And we have set limits on areas where case-by-case decisions are needed, so there’s no question about what’s in and what’s out.
Plowing, planting, harvesting--those activities are exempt. Period. Your wet lawn, your tile drainage, groundwater, constructed ponds and artificial pools, sand and gravel pit, those are all out too. The bottom line is: if you didn’t need a permit before the rule, you won’t need one now.
I know some folks are casting doubt on what the rule says and does not say, and lawsuits have been filed. We know that some in Congress have expressed concerns and we welcome folks taking a close look at the record--the closer the better. Because we’re confident we’re following the science and the law and being as clear as we can be about any impact to agriculture.
In the meantime, EPA and the Army Corps will continue to do our jobs and make sure work with all of you to implement the rule in ways that are as consistent and as streamlined as possible.
That’s why Assistant Secretary of the Army Jo-Ellen Darcy and I have instructed our staffs to develop a transparent online database, so we can show you the decisions being made by the Corps and by EPA on how this rule gets implemented, and make sure you can see that we’re doing it consistently. It will also let you see the jurisdictional determinations being made and the permits being issued.
You can be assured we’re doing everything possible to streamline the implementation of this rule, and to make sure that when permits are needed, they’re being delivered in a timely way.
Again, we heard the agriculture community’s input, we saw places where we could make the final rule clearer, and we made changes.
I’d just like to wrap up by restating that at the end of the day, we all know the importance of healthy land and clean water. Our health, our food supply, and your livelihoods all depend on it. At EPA, we value what you do, and we take your input seriously. Thank you.