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Agriculture and U.S. Renewable Energy Policy Agriculture and national energy policy are inextricably linked. The growth of the renewable energy sector is not only an important part of creating energy independence, but represents opportunities for ranchers and farmers to add to their bottom lines. Below are some renewable energy provisions that should be a part of our national energy policy.   If implemented, the below policies would allow ranchers and farmers to diversify their income and cut costs, while increasing their energy efficiency:
Mining - Federal Mining Policy and the West Why mining is important When done right, mining can represent a valuable economic resource for local communities. However, mining corporations are still operating under an outdated mining policy (the 1872 Mining Act) that makes sustainability and guaranteed protections against impacts to local water and natural resources anything but a guarantee.  For example, the Environmental Protection Agency has named mining the country’s top toxic polluter for nine straight years now.  According to the report, mining has contaminated 40 percent of the headwaters of western watersheds.
Wilderness In 1964 Congress passed the Wilderness Act to protect a small segment of our most unique and cherished public lands in their original character. Currently about 2% of public lands in the lower 48 are classified as wilderness. These areas are free of road building, dams, permanent structures, logging, motorized vehicles, new mining claims and mineral leasing. Hunting, fishing and grazing is permitted in wilderness.

New Clean Water Act Ruling and Agriculture ("Waters of the US") - Background and Details

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New Clean Water Act Ruling and Agriculture ("Waters of the US")
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Background and Details
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The public comment period on the new ruling has been extended until October 20, 2014.

For the complete clean water ruling, go to the Federal Register. Analyses can also be found at EPA and American Rivers. Meanwhile, here's some relevant background on the new rulign and the Clean Water Act:

Water Legacy. Forty years ago, two-thirds of America’s lakes, rivers and coastal waters were unsafe for fishing and swimming. When American rivers began spontaneously catching fire Congress took action, crafting the Clean Water Act in 1972 to address the growing threat and danger. Since that time, that number has been cut in half. However, one-third of the nation’s waters still do not meet basic safety standards.

Prior to 2001: Virtually all streams, wetlands, lakes and other natural water bodies were covered under the Clean Water Act in accordance with congressional intent and the long-standing Corps and EPA definitions of “waters of the United States.” The important physical, chemical and biological connections between upstream wetlands and tributaries and downstream navigable waters were accepted and presumed to exist. The Supreme Court unanimously rejected industry arguments that wetlands were not “waters of the United States,” deferring to the experts at EPA and the Corps to identify water resources the law must protect to serve the law’s clean water goals.

Since 2001: Later Supreme Court decisions, along with subsequent agency guidance issued in 2003 and 2008, called into question the status of upstream tributaries and wetlands and, as a result, have jeopardized critical water resources and fish and wildlife habitat. Taken together, they have:

  • Removed protections for at least 20 million acres of wetlands, including prairie potholes and other seasonal wetlands that provide important flood protection and essential wildlife habitat nationwide.
  • Put at risk 59% of all stream miles in the continental United States. Many of these streams provide critical habitat for countless fish, especially trout.
  • Threaten drinking water supplies. Headwater and intermittently-flowing streams feed into the public drinking water systems of more than 117 million Americans.
  • Put at risk a multi-billion dollar economy founded on clean water: Anglers alone generated nearly $115 billion in economic activity in 2011, breathing life into rural communities and supporting more than one million jobs.

Clean Water Future. The proposed rule will clarify protections for about two million miles of streams and 20 million acres of wetlands and other waters based on the copious science showing that these types of waters have a significant physical, chemical, or biological connection to traditionally navigable or interstate waters. The proposed rule preserves the existing Clean Water Act exemptions for farming, forestry, mining and certain other land use activities. When finalized, this “waters of the United States” rule will bolster the Clean Water Act’s legal and scientific foundation, provide greater long-term certainty for landowners, and protect the streams, wetlands and other waters that feed our Nation’s rivers, lakes and bays.

Additionally, about 60 percent of stream miles in the U.S. only flow seasonally or after rain, but have a considerable impact on the downstream waters. And approximately 117 million people – one in three Americans – get drinking water from public systems that rely in part on these streams. These are important waterways for which EPA and the Army Corps is clarifying protection.

What does the new ruling mean for agriculture?

The new ruling codifies existing exemptions for agricultural producers engaged in producing America's food, fuel and fiber. Rocky Mountain Farmers Union called this new ruling important because it “clarifies existing confusion around what activities required permitting based on confusing “navigable waters” definition.

CONTINUED EXEMPTIONS FOR AGRICULTURE

  • Agricultural stormwater discharges.
  • Return flows from irrigated agriculture.
  • Normal farming, silvicultural, and ranching activities.
  • Upland soil and water conservation practices.
  • Construction and maintenance of farm or stock ponds or irrigation ditches.
  • Maintenance of drainage ditches.
  • Construction or maintenance of farm, forest, and temporary mining roads.

Exclusions from Clean Water Act jurisdiction continue for:

  • Prior Converted Cropland, including the role of USDA.
  • Waste Treatment Systems.

Includes exclusions from Clean Water Act jurisdiction for:

  • Non-tidal drainage, including tiles, and irrigation ditches excavated on dry land.
  • Artificially irrigated areas that would be dry if irrigation stops.
  • Artificial lakes or ponds used for purposes such as stock watering or irrigation.
  • Areas artificially flooded for rice growing.
  • Artificial ornamental waters created for primarily aesthetic reasons.
  • Water-filled depressions created as a result of construction activity.
  • Pits excavated in uplands for fill, sand, or gravel that fill with water.