Eric Bohl, Leslie Holloway, and Spencer Tuma go over the proposed replacement to WOTUS, the Clean Water Rule. Seeing progress on talks with China, Trump postpones raising tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese goods. New study shows Missouri food manufacturing could increase more than 50% in 8 years, adding $25 billion in economic activity and over 70,000 jobs to the state.
Eric Bohl: [00:00:09] Welcome to Digging In with Missouri Farm Bureau I’m Eric Bohl, Director of Public Affairs. Today we’re going to be joined by Leslie Holloway and Spencer Tuma to talk about the Clean Water Rule currently working its way through the process of becoming a final rule at the EPA.
Eric Bohl: [00:00:25] So let’s get started.
Eric Bohl: [00:00:34] Today we are joined by our Senior Director of Regulatory Affairs, Leslie Holloway, and our Director of National Legislative Programs, Spencer Tuma. Welcome to the program, Leslie and Spencer — appreciate you guys joining us today.
Leslie Holloway & Spencer Tuma: [00:00:48] Our pleasure. Thanks for having us.
Eric Bohl: [00:00:50] One of the things that we have been working on for quite a while, but haven’t had a lot of new things to announce on it for a bit, has been the Clean Water Rule, and that’s why I wanted to get you guys together today to discuss this because this is something that is years in the making and is finally starting to get some traction. So Leslie, the new Clean Water Rule. Where did that come from and what’s some of the background of how we got to where we are today?
Leslie Holloway: [00:01:16] Well, that’s an important part of the story, and we are trying to remind people who wouldn’t necessarily be following this on a daily basis and wouldn’t have any need to. But there were actually U.S. Supreme Court decisions in the early 2000s that started this process. And at that point in time the agricultural community and the business community were anxious for the EPA and the Corps to recognize that these U.S. Supreme Court decisions really should change the way that those agencies look at what is federal jurisdiction. And so American Farm Bureau and other organizations were pushing the agency that at that time to actually put into the regulations what the U.S. Supreme Court said, because it was very favorable for landowners.
Eric Bohl: [00:02:06] And that was several years ago back in the Obama administration.
Leslie Holloway: [00:02:09] Yes it was actually prior to the Obama administration that those U.S. Supreme Court rulings came out. But you know for a variety of reasons that regulation didn’t move forward until the Obama administration came into power. And then the proposed WOTUS rule was actually what was put forth by the agencies which went in exactly the opposite direction of what should have happened as a result those U.S. Supreme Court decisions.
Eric Bohl: [00:02:37] And that’s a famous US rule that we’ve been fighting against for several years.
Leslie Holloway: [00:02:41] Exactly.
Eric Bohl: [00:02:41] And when was that originally proposed?
Leslie Holloway: [00:02:44] That came out in 2014 and it became final in 2015. Then there were a number of lawsuits filed including Missouri that led the way on a lawsuit that actually has been successful to date in keeping the WOTUS rule from going into effect in Missouri as well as some other states. But it’s the WOTUS rule that became final in 2015 actually in effect in over 25 states at this point in time. So there is a real problem out there now in terms of consistency between states on what is and is not federal jurisdiction.
Eric Bohl: [00:03:20] And then when President Trump got into office, he actually had made a pretty strong point during the campaign and in speaking with his rural supporters about getting rid of that WOTUS rule, and took pretty quick action along that line. And that’s kind of what has led us to where we are with this rule today, right?
Leslie Holloway: [00:03:38] That’s right. One of the first executive orders that President Trump issued was to repeal and look at what we should have in place to specify what is federal jurisdiction over waters of the United States. And so the EPA started immediately to review that rule. Unfortunately, it’s not as easy, as those of us in agriculture would like, to make that kind of a change because it had already gone to the stage of being a final rule. And to kind of unwind that takes very specific attention to detail. You have to make sure that you’re following the law. You have to be prepared to make your case in court, which they’re doing now, you have to have public comment periods. And so it’s it’s going to take some time. But the other thing that I like to try to remind people is that that process actually works to our benefit in those cases where you’ve got regulations that we are not in favor of. So it’s just a process that we have to go through.
Eric Bohl: [00:04:36] And it was something that early on in the Trump administration there was a lot of concern in the ag industry that the EPA was moving a little too fast on this and playing a little bit too loose with their process. So that seems like that slowed it down a decent amount and otherwise we may have already been at this point a little earlier in the game.
Leslie Holloway: [00:04:57] At this day and age, you know every regulatory proposal is going to be subject to litigation.
Eric Bohl: [00:05:02] Especially one this large.
Leslie Holloway: [00:05:03] Yes.
Eric Bohl: [00:05:04] And impactful on the environment. So certainly it’s something that we want to make sure is done right. So at this point now we’re in the in the latter stages of getting that new replacement rule put into place. So where exactly technically are we on that?
Leslie Holloway: [00:05:22] We’re in the public comment period now on the revised definition of waters of the United States, and there was a hearing this week in Kansas City conducted by the EPA and the Corps of Engineers. Missouri Farm Bureau Vice President Todd Hays presented testimony on behalf of Farm Bureau. And so they are taking public comment until April 15th. After that there will have to be a new final rule prepared and promulgated.
Eric Bohl: [00:05:53] And they may take into account whatever the comments were.
Leslie Holloway: [00:05:55] Exactly.
Eric Bohl: [00:05:56] They got during that period.
Leslie Holloway: [00:05:57] And we’ve heard potentially a time frame of next spring having a final rule in place.
Eric Bohl: [00:06:05] Great. And so what exactly is different about this rule from the WOTUS rule that was in place, or that I guess technically is still in place in many states, that the Obama administration had done?
Leslie Holloway: [00:06:18] Well, in general, the changes are that it recognizes the states’ primary authority to oversee water quality. That’s one of the general changes that have been made that every water does not have to be subject to federal permit in order to be able to protect water quality. In fact, the federal Clean Water Act actually gives states the primary role in overseeing water quality and Missouri is a leader in that regard. We’ve done a good job. It also makes it more clear what exactly is and is not a water of the United States so that you don’t have to hire attorneys and professional consultants to come in before you start any type of field work to determine whether you’re affecting a water of the United States. And then lastly, in general, it also stays within the scope of the Clean Water Act. So instead of the overreach that we think the WOTUS rule actually embodied where there was a attempt by the agencies to really go beyond the scope of the federal Clean Water Act, this proposed rule we think is more consistent with the Clean Water Act with the Supreme Court decisions and really narrows the focus where it should be more specifically looking at some of the terms within the definition — the terms for the definitions of tributary, as well as ditches, things that are going to be have to be reviewed by a landowner to determine whether or not that is a water of the United States. Those types of things are also defined in a clearer more narrow way. You won’t have, for instance, ephemeral streams are no longer within federal jurisdiction the way they were under the old rule. So those are the types of things that people will still have to pay some attention to. Once we get a final rule there will be guidelines from various agricultural organizations and EPA so that landowners can make those determinations.
Eric Bohl: [00:08:18] And you mentioned that last night on Wednesday — I suppose, is today that Wednesday?
Spencer Tuma: [00:08:25] Today is Thursday.
Eric Bohl: [00:08:26] Okay. Yeah sorry about that. I’m losing my mind.
Spencer Tuma: [00:08:30] It’s that bad weather. It’s getting to your mind.
Eric Bohl: [00:08:32] It’s been a rough few weeks here. It keeps on coming in — snow and ice and everything. So yes, last night there was this hearing in Kansas City, Kansas, that both of you attended where Vice President Todd Hays spoke in favor of the rule in large part. We have a few things that still need to be looked at and revised. We believe it to really be the best rule. But in general he was supportive of it and both of you were able to attend it and listen not only to Vice President Hays’ testimony but some of the other people both for and against it. Spencer, what were your big takeaways from that hearing and what were the biggest arguments in favor and opposed to it?
Spencer Tuma: [00:09:15] Sure. I think you know anytime you attend an EPA hearing or or anything related to water, you know water is something that is essential to life, and so you hear a lot of very, very differing viewpoints. But you sometimes hear a lot of fear at those hearings. So a lot of a lot of people on the other side are very concerned that this is going to make their water dirty. Some people are even calling it the dirty water rule, whereas we call it the Clean Water Rule. And I think the biggest thing we tried to demonstrate — and Vice President Hayes did a wonderful job — was that farmers care about clean water and they care about environment stewardship. Farmers are some of the best stewards of our land and water — we believe in the entire world. And so really trying to take those fears into account, but assure people that farmers and ranchers do care about clean water, was something that we really tried to bring through in our testimony.
Eric Bohl: [00:10:07] That balance is what we’re really looking for. We want to have clean water. We also want to have clear rules so we can make sure that we can keep the water.
Spencer Tuma: [00:10:14] Right.
Eric Bohl: [00:10:14] And like you say it is a very emotional issue and this is something that people get very afraid that something is going to harm their family. They start to come out in force. So I think this is going to be a long process. The comment period may get drawn out a little bit. I guess it remains to be seen once we get towards that deadline. But between now and then, as as you mentioned, Leslie, we do have a comment period that goes through the middle of April, through tax day I guess, is the creation of it, right? So what are some of the ways that we can comment, that the average person can comment, if they have thoughts that they want to share with the EPA to take into account in this rule?
Spencer Tuma: [00:10:59] Great question. So it’s actually really important for the general public and for Missouri Farm Bureau members to get involved in the public comment period. You can actually use our online action center if you go to mofb.org and click on ‘Action Center’. There’ll be a little picture that says ‘clean water clear rules’. If you just click on that you can enter your information. We have a message preloaded in there for you but you’re welcome to customize it. You can write as little or as much as you want and then if you hit ‘send message’ it will submit your comment to the docket for EPA and the Corps’ review. So it’s very easy to do. If you’re not signed up for our action center, you can text MOFB to 5 0 4 5 7 and get signed up for those alerts so we’re going to be taking comments through the end of the comment period.
Eric Bohl: [00:11:42] Very good. And I also saw that you were able to take a video of Vice President Hays’ comments at the hearing yesterday, and that is up on our Facebook page, if you’d like to see what Farm Bureau’s comments were, you can watch that. It’s only a couple of minutes — a pretty short amount of testimony because they had a lot of people to get through there, but it did seem like we got the point across pretty well. He was very good at laying out what our position is and what we do think still needs to be tweaked a little bit. And on that note, Leslie, what are some of the things that you do believe in your analysis so far that we ought to encourage EPA to take another look at and clarify some more?
Leslie Holloway: [00:12:23] Well, yes, and I also should say that the Missouri Department of Natural Resources is also working at doing an analysis to try to make sure that anything that might impact Missouri specifically we do raise with EPA. But ditches are an issue that in Missouri we have a unique situation — in the Bootheel, especially, a very unique feature. And so the rule says that, for the most part, farm-related ditches roadside ditches are not considered waters of the United States, but they also do have a caveat where there is drainage from, for instance, upland cropland that those may be considered waters of the United States. And so there has to be a little more specific analysis done to try to determine how far that extends. We’ve had a couple of questions from landowners about other types of features. There’s mitigation banking that is going on now where if you have a project that requires a corps of engineers’ permit, in some cases, there’s a requirement that wetlands acreage that may be taken out of the environment can be offset by purchasing wetland acreage that’s considered a banking of wetlands acreage for purposes of preserving that type of feature. And so the definition of waters of the United States will have a very direct impact on how much of that type of acreage has to be offset.
Eric Bohl: [00:13:59] Well definitely it is an important thing to to comment on in the next few weeks here. If anybody has thoughts that they’d like to share, do go to that action center on our Web site at mofb.org to enter your comments so that EPA can take them into account. Moving to a slightly different topic, we do have a lot of ongoing negotiations on the trade front, and Spencer we’ve talked about this a lot over the past few weeks, and I think that we’ve said several times that if we’re able to see some movement in the Chinese negotiations that March 1st deadline for the 25 percent raise on the tariffs to be raised 25 percent percent on 200 billion dollars of Chinese goods may be delayed, and it looks like we’ve got some promising action on that.
Spencer Tuma: [00:14:45] Yes so I’m excited to be on the podcast and have good news to deliver on trade. So last week the Chinese agreed to purchase an additional 10 million metric tons worth of U.S. soybeans which is huge progress for the U.S. market. We did see, because of that progress and other progress that has been made,President Trump agreed to kind of extend the deadline. So originally as you said, as of March 1st, if significant progress had not been made then, the U.S. would be levying additional tariffs on Chinese goods, about 200 billion dollars worth. Because of the progress that’s been made, President Trump has stated that the U.S. will not be levying additional tariffs and that we will continue to move forward with negotiations with the Chinese. Now some people, I think, speculate that an agreement could be really close and others speculate that an agreement is maybe a little farther away than some of us think. But for now it’s good news in the short term and hopefully we’ll continue to make progress for a longer term agreement.
Eric Bohl: [00:15:45] And did he set another actual hard deadline for those to be pushed back to or just kind of indefinitely delayed?
Spencer Tuma: [00:15:52] My understanding is that the U.S. trade representative announced that there would not be an official deadline set. So it’s kind of extended indefinitely, but I would venture to speculate that if progress is not made over the next couple of weeks or so that we may start to see some dates thrown around. But as of now there’s no deadline.
Eric Bohl: [00:16:11] OK. Yeah he’ll probably keep that in his back pocket to be brought out when he feels like it’s necessary.
Spencer Tuma: [00:16:17] Sure.
Eric Bohl: [00:16:17] One other thing that we want to touch on today is very big news, but it’s been also something that’s under the surface a little bit for the past few months that we’ve been working on and mentioned it when that preliminary report came out a little while ago — that the University of Missouri has been working with Farm Bureau and the Department of Agriculture and several other entities in the in the agricultural policy space to do a study to see what additional opportunities there are for value-added manufacturing in Missouri. And just yesterday that final full study was released. Again it is available to be viewed on the the Missouri Foundation for Agriculture website. And it’s a pretty large an in-depth study, about 150 pages give or take, that talks about what opportunities there are to expand manufacturing in Missouri. What are some of those topline takeaways there?
Spencer Tuma: [00:17:15] Yes. So my biggest takeaway from that is some of the statistics that were thrown out kind of in in the press release about the study — I haven’t had a chance to do a deep dive into the text yet — but right off the bat you know potential for 70,000 new jobs in the state of Missouri. You know I would venture to guess that some of those would appear in rural communities, some of them are of course going to appear in urban centers. But that kind of job growth is certainly something that caught my attention and then an additional twenty-five billion dollars worth of added economic activity in our state. Those are pretty big numbers. And my understanding is those estimations are not made based on kind of an overzealous implementation of the study — it’s a fairly conservative approach to implementing the study. So you know I’m really looking forward. I know that there’s going to be a working group put together to see you know kind of what are the next steps. We have the study, we’ve identified the potential, we’ve maybe identified some barriers to this sort of growth in our state, so then what are the things that we can do to try to bring some of this economic activity to Missouri.
Eric Bohl: [00:18:20] Right. And the basic premise was that Missouri does a great job of raising crops and growing crops and raising livestock and and also forestry was involved in this as well. We have a huge forestry industry actually in Missouri and especially the southern portion of Missouri. But we have a tendency to ship a lot of those things to other states to actually be processed for final use. And that’s where a lot of value gets added to the commodities. And is there an opportunity they wanted to explore if there was an opportunity to keep some of that processing here in local communities in the state and capture that value in Missouri rather than shipping it off to another state — one of our neighbors where they get that value. So the the 25 billion dollars that you referenced would be an increase of more than 50 percent of what we currently produce. Right now I think our value-added portion is somewhere around 40 billion dollars. So adding another 25 billion to that would again be a an increase of more than 50 percent over what we have today. And that would be just in the next eight years if we follow these recommendations. So next steps are that we’re going to attempt to convene a task force and put actual concrete proposals out to how to capture those actual studies, proposals, and turn them into reality. So over the next year we hope to get those actually turned into concrete proposals. So there’s a lot of promise there.
Spencer Tuma: [00:19:54] Yeah I absolutely think so and I think it could if you really think about it. You know a lot of these conversations have been going on for a really long time. Just last year and in 2017, I guess it’s been almost two years ago, Missouri Farm Bureau delegates actually adopted policies stating that they would be in favor of efforts to attract more livestock processing facilities to our state. We also have efforts underway in the state Capitol to make it where producers can feed more animals in the state of Missouri, so I think some of those efforts are steps that are already being taken and, hopefully, we’ll see those come to fruition and maybe, you know, with the processing facility. This task force is this the first step to kind of getting that project potentially off the ground. So I think there’s some really exciting things being done and being talked about but hopefully we can see some results.
Eric Bohl: [00:20:43] And, as President Hurst said in his statement about this yesterday, this has the potential to be transformational for rural Missouri because adding 70,000 new jobs and 25 billion more dollars of economic activity would make a huge difference, and most of these would probably be in the rural areas and would also add to the demand for the commodities we already produce.
Spencer Tuma: [00:21:03] For sure.
Eric Bohl: [00:21:04] Which is always a good thing when you’re looking at supply and demand. You want more demand if you’re a farmer. Very good. Well I appreciate you guys joining us again today and look forward to seeing what happens with the Clean Water Rule and the trade negotiations as well as the proposals we actually get out of this manufacturing state.
Spencer Tuma: [00:21:21] Sounds great. We’ll see you next week.
Eric Bohl: [00:21:22] Thank you.
Eric Bohl: [00:21:29] Thanks again for joining us. If you would like to comment on that clean water rule or get any of our other action alerts, please do go to our web site at mofb.org and sign up for our action alerts. We will talk to you next week.