andyspondMuch to the chagrin of Grinch bureaucrats, some gift items wrapped in the 1,603-page, bipartisan $1.1 trillion “cromnibus” federal funding bill offer many farmers and ranchers good reasons to rejoice. 

Those glad tidings prevent the EPA from regulating farm ponds under navigable water legislation, or to put a cork in cattle flatulence as a climate threat. Also, a temporary moratorium is put on listing the greater sage grouse as an endangered species.

If you hadn’t imagined that farm ponds were a big federal deal, just ask Andy Johnson. He got hit with a $75.000 per day — yup, per day — EPA fine for creating a watering hole for his cattle along the Six Mile Creek (top photo) that crosses his rural Wyoming property. 

Although Johnson had received a state permit to build a dam, he had failed to get a separate federal permit required by the Army Corps of Engineers because the creek connects with the Black Forks River, then on to the Green River, which EPA had designated under the Clean Water Act of 1972 as a “navigable, interstate water of the United States.”

Applying this interpretation, the EPA defines waters of the United States so broadly that they could regulate virtually any wet or potentially wet spot, including drainage ditches, seasonal streams, and puddle-like depressions, and even large, dry areas adjacent to each waterway that they and the Army Corps of Engineers determine to have a “significant effect” on downstream waters. 

Such “buffer” area influences could be aggregated over thousands of square miles.

Carrying regulatory chicken scratch to a whole new level, the EPA threatened Lois Alt, the owner of a West Virginia poultry farm, with a $37,500-per-day fine claimingalyfarm that the poop from her coops would be swept into Mudlick Run during rain events. It didn’t apparently seem relevant to the agents that the tiny creek that EPA labeled as . . . yes, a “water of the U.S.” was located hundreds of yards uphill from her land.

EPA’s poultry pollution patrol agents are paltry featherweights compared with their planned pasture plop posse. Imagine having to battle as much as 500 liters per individual cow each day of highly bovinated methane! Altogether those climate-ravaging critters account for about 9% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

In any case, the funding bill, as approved, won’t allow the EPA to implement a White House proposal to cut dairy industry methane emissions by 25% by 2025. That should come as a big relief to all of those cows which can carry on doing what comes naturally.

Along somewhat the same vein, the bilateral funding agreement also provides relief for many kids whose school lunch programs won’t be restricted by standard low-sodium and whole-grain menus championed by Michelle Obama

At the same time, however, the free lunch fare at the UN was trimmed. The $3 billion her husband promised to pay for poor countries in retribution for climate damage caused by our fossil-fueled prosperity got cut.

Many rural landowners in 11 western states will be cheered by a another rider in the federal funding bill, the one which specifies that neither the greater sage grouse or its smaller cousin, the Gunnison sage grouse, can be officially listed as endangered until more studies are undertaken. 

While the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) oversees 57 million acres of sage grouse habitat, about 40% is on private lands.

It’s not really a question of whether or not the bird populations need to be protected, but rather, whether the various states instead of the federal government should determine the best ways to accomplish this consistent with other impacted priorities including environmentally responsible oil and gas development.

greater sage-grouseEnvironmentalists, ranchers, and officials in several states have come together to seek and establish safeguards. Greg Sheehan, who directs the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, argues that an endangered species listing will hurt more than help these efforts by creating tedious and time-consuming federal reviews.

Let’s realize that most rural Americans — including farmers, ranchers, and outdoor sports enthusiasts — care a great deal about preserving the environment and its creatures. Here, let’s also recognize that the EPA, the BLM, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and various other federal and state organizations have good people and important regulatory roles to play.

Yet there are rational limits. When ponds and drainage ditches on private land become regulated under interstate commerce statutes intended for navigable waterways — when businesses that provide milk for our children and food for our plates are shut down to fight natural climate change — well maybe there are logical reasons to worry that some of this regulation stuff might be getting just a bit out of hand.


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  • Larry Bell

    CFACT Advisor Larry Bell heads the graduate program in space architecture at the University of Houston. He founded and directs the Sasakawa International Center for Space Architecture. He is also the author of "Climate of Corruption: Politics and Power Behind the Global Warming Hoax."