Thompson introduces wetlands reform bill to strengthen laws under Clean Water Act

February 11, 2020
In The News

U.S. Rep. Glenn ‘GT’ Thompson (R-PA) on Feb. 7 unveiled legislation that seeks to modernize federal laws surrounding wetlands designations on agricultural lands and protect farmers’ rights.

Rep. Thompson introduced the Bridging Responsible Agricultural Conservation Efforts Act, H.R. 5799, with cosponsor U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN), who serves as House Agriculture Committee chairman.

“For decades, farmers and ranchers have experienced uncertainty, confusion, and undue costs through wetland determinations. Modernizing normal farming practices and clearly defining converted croplands will finally bring certainty and fairness to this process,” Rep. Thompson said. “This legislation will be a win for farmers, ranchers, and landowners nationwide.”

Wetlands are considered “Waters of the United States” under the Clean Water Act, and are regulated by the Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is also required to protect U.S. wetlands through conservation provisions laid out in the 1985 Farm Bill.

H.R. 5799 would specifically require the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers to recognize prior-converted and commenced-converted lands that are already certified by the USDA and would prohibit those lands from being “recaptured” by the regulations enforced by the Clean Water Act, information provided by Rep. Thompson’s office said.

The legislation would not only provide clarity for landowners regarding federal wetlands designations, it would also establish consistency between the agencies and update the definition of “normal farming practices.” Within the rulemaking introduced in H.R. 5799, the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers would include haying and pasturing as normal farming practices.

The legislation would also protect farmers’ property rights by prohibiting agency interpretations if there is regulatory ambiguity when making wetlands determinations, the congressman’s office said.