August 11, 2014
The aggregates industry has a formidable presence in Washington, but when it comes to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed rule for the Waters of the United States (WOTUS), another ag industry is having an impressive impact: the agricultural industry.
The American Farm Bureau Association (AFBA) and numerous state farm bureaus have taken to social media – twitter, youtube and facebook – with a campaign called “ditch the rule.”
The campaign is a grassroots-driven initiative that contrasts beautifully with the EPA’s difficult-to-digest, pseudo-science speak. Using a mix of straightforward messaging, humor, and persistence, the farmers are framing public conversation on the rulemaking.
Much like aggregate producers, farmers object to a provision of the rule that would allow EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to decide on a case-by-case basis whether to regulate wetlands and other waters that are not directly connected to streams and rivers but have “a significant nexus to a traditional navigable water, interstate water, or the territorial seas.”
“The proposed rule effectively eliminates any constraints the term ‘navigable’ imposes on the Corps and the EPA’s CWA (Clean Water Act) jurisdiction by granting regulatory control over virtually all waters, assuming a breadth of authority Congress has not authorized,” the AFBA notes in a position paper.
Rather than argue position papers, however, social media allows the campaign to react quickly and engage industry members and those in related businesses.
And it’s working. A group of 15 state attorney generals recently wrote a letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy asking her to withdrawal the rule. In addition, many state-based farm bureaus are soliciting commitments from their Congress representatives to fight the rule.
To defend the EPA’s position and calm the waters, McCarthy traveled to Missouri to meet with farmers. Prior to the trip, however, she commented in a telephone news conference that, “We’re hearing some concerns that are just ludicrous… Some say EPA will regulate small, unconnected waters…including puddles on lawns, driveways, and playgrounds. That’s just silly.”
Those comments sparked more commentary on social media, including this tweet from Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kansas). While most audiences and local members of Congress thanked McCarthy for leaving the Beltway, her presence had little impact on their viewpoint.
EPA has tried to duplicate the ag industry’s social media success. First, EPA acting administrator for water Nancy Stoner wrote a blog post about the rule. The result? AFBA sent Congress “a comprehensive document that responds to inaccurate and misleading comments about the rule.”
Next, EPA began its own campaign, “ditch the myths,” but it hasn’t come close to the number of social media traffic as the original. Instead, EPA continues to find itself playing defense. In fact, the National Farmers Union sent a letter to McCarthy asking for clarification on eight points, including asking for a map of the Prairie Pothole region “that predicts, with relative certainty, which waters would be considered jurisdictional and which would not.
But as the agency tries to contend with angry farmers, its scientific jargon is in sharp contrast to the creativity being displayed in the ditch the rule campaign. Consider this parody from members of the Missouri Farm Bureau.
While the agg industry is indebted to the ag industry for its leadership on this issue, we should also take a cue from its approach. A #roughride campaign might be just what it takes to generate the same high-profile conversation on highways.