January 01, 2013

Examining the CWA Agricultural Exemption

Chris Erchull

When the Senate was hearing arguments to amend the Clean Water Act (CWA) in 1977, the American Farm Bureau Federation voiced its opposition to “the use of a permit system for the regulation of farming activities.” Because there were more than two million farms in the United States at the time, regulating day-to-day farming practices across the country was an implausible task for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Furthermore, farms were believed to have a minimal ecological impact. Ultimately, the agricultural industry prevailed. In an effort to balance competing interests, the notorious 404(f) exemption was born, allowing discharge into wetlands in the course of “normal farming activities” without requiring a permit, so long as the use of the land remains consistent.

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