Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) spoke yesterday about what he said were the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) “questionable activities” surrounding the proposed Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule.  The proposed WOTUS rule is aimed at updating which waters of the United States can be regulated by the federal government under the Clean Water Act.  The final rule is expected soon.

At a nomination hearing for Jeffrey Prieto, President Obama’s nominee to be USDA’s general counsel, Roberts told Prieto that the proposed rule would harm U.S. agriculture, which USDA has the responsibility to protect.  In addition, Roberts said he believes EPA violated federal law when it “manipulated and influenced” the outcome of the rule’s public comment period.

Roberts said his committee has heard directly from farmers and ranchers from across the United States who made it “clear that the WOTUS rule was the wrong approach and the wrong rule for agriculture and rural America and small communities.”

“We now know that EPA stacked the deck against them, Roberts commented.  “Rather than listening to public comments from our agriculture constituents, it appears that EPA has orchestrated a political grassroots lobbying campaign with environmental groups to manipulate the process and disregard legitimate concerns from rural American,” he said.

Prieto, who is currently USDA’s acting general counsel, told the committee that the USDA has “a very robust role” to play in the review of matters under the purview of other agencies that affect agriculture, like EPA’s proposed WOTUS rule.  In the WOTUS rule, USDA “would serve in a counseling role,” Prieto said, one that “ensures the interests of the agriculture community are embodied.”