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New Federal Legislation Could Have Negative Impact on Michigan Agriculture and Property Development

Paul Bohn, Esq.

As is well-known in the environmental law community, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has the authority to stop you from freely making decisions regarding your own private property. For example, the EPA has long regulated any activity on or near "wetlands." Wetlands encompass a broad range of various bodies of water - from large rivers and streams, and now, to puddles in a parking lot, or ditches dug in a farm.

Recently, the federal government has proposed a new rule which would allow the EPA to have even more control over your decisions regarding your property. In a recent U.S. Senate Committee Report (released Sept. 20), the federal government proposes a new rule called the "Water of the United States" which uses the Clean Water Act to give federal agencies a greater expansion on jurisdiction over private land use and development.

This new legislation would largely affect basic farming activity which is prominent in the agricultural regions of Michigan, as well property development in the state. The proposed rule finds that basic plowing creating furrows is not exempt from the rule because it creates "mini mountain ranges" which the rule claims converts wetlands to "uplands." Further, the rule finds that even if farmers could somehow plow without moving dirt or creating furrows and wanted to use their land for grazing, plowing would still be necessary to reinstate the crops. This would be found as a "new" activity which the government would identify as "a discharge of a pollutant that requires a permit."

(http://www.beefusa.org/CMDocs/BeefUSA/Media/Beltway%20Beef/WOTUS%20Committee%20Report%20Final.pdf).

Michigan's food and agriculture industry contributes $101.2 billion dollars annually to the state's economy. Michigan farms and the commodities they produce account for $13 billion of the overall total. Field crops alone have the greatest economic impact at $5.72 billion. (http://www.michigan.gov/mdard/0,4610,7-125-1572-7775--,00.html). If this new rule is enforced strictly, it could have a detrimental effect on Michigan's food and agriculture industry.

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