Politico: Lawmakers Take Agriculture Department to Task on "Waters of the U.S." Rule
6/19/14 12:00 PM EDT
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle took to task the Agriculture Department this morning for failing to perform better outreach to farmers when identifying the 56 conservation practices that would be exempted from the proposed “Waters of the U.S.” rule.
Robert Bonnie, USDA’s under secretary for natural resources and environment, was questioned for more than an hour by the House Agriculture Committee’s Conservation, Energy and Forestry Subcommittee. The lawmakers raised concerns over what they said was leading to confusion in the agriculture industry.
“This is bipartisan in our concerns,” Rep. Ann McLane Kuster said. “The farmers in my district do care a great deal about the environment and about the land… But I think the concerns you are hearing relate to the level of engagement in the process. ... The stakeholders in my district did not feel included in the process.”
In response to a question from Rep. Dan Benishek about who USDA reached out to in developing the exemptions and the interpretive rule, Bonnie told the committee that his office is having “ongoing conversations with people in agriculture.”
Later Bonnie added: “Clearly we need to continue to focus on outreach … we will continue to do outreach within the agriculture community.”
“I think we can do a better job with communicating,” he said. “We continue to believe this creates opportunities within agriculture to put conservation on the ground.”