Wetland determination act announced

Created: 6/30/16 (Thu) | Topic: Issues

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congressman Kevin Cramer joined Congresswoman Kristi Noem (R-SD) and Congressman Collin Peterson (D-MN) to introduce the bipartisan Wetland Determinations Efficiency and Transparency Act this week. 

This legislation aims to address the backlog of wetland determinations and enact permanent reforms that make the determination process more efficient, accountable and transparent. 

"Not since the 1990s has there been serious discussion about Swampbuster, at least not with landowners’ and producers' best interests in mind,” said Cramer. “From streamlining wetland certifications to due process reform, this bill is a package of common-sense improvements which will benefit not only landowners and producers, but also the environment. With the next Farm Bill on the near horizon, I look forward to working with Kristi and Collin, and engaging with our stakeholders, to help make these reforms reality." 
“Part of promoting sustainable conservation practices is ensuring programs and processes work for the producers who use them,” said Noem. “Waiting years before knowing whether a person can improve their land without jeopardizing a wetland or their participation in farm programs is an unacceptable and costly delay. Together with Reps. Cramer and Peterson, we are offering real reforms that can help eliminate the backlog and ensure timely and accurate determinations are made from here on out.”

“This bill starts the conversation about how we can help address the wetland determination backlog facing producers in our region,” said Peterson. “I will continue to work with my colleagues to give producers the tools they need to make improvements on their land which can increase yields, reduce the risk of flooding, and improve water quality, as well as make it easier to stay in compliance with conservation rules.”

The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is responsible for determining whether land qualifies as a wetland, and therefore, is protected for conservation purposes according to so-called “Swampbuster” rules. If property is determined to be a wetland, certain changes – such as laying drain tile in a field – are not allowed without a landowner losing the ability to participate in federal farm bill programs and crop insurance. In recent years, producers have faced a significant backlog in wetland determination. As of June 1, there were 3,086 requests outstanding in the Prairie Pothole Region –  757 in North Dakota, 1,374 in South Dakota and 325 in Minnesota.

"The North Dakota Farm Bureau appreciates the work of Congressman Cramer in addressing issues delaying the ability of farmers to enhance the productivity of their land,” said NDFB President Daryl Lies. “We thank him, along with Congressman Peterson and Congresswoman Noem, for working toward a solution in correcting the delays of important determinations of wetlands. This legislation also addresses farmers’ rights of due process in regards to certain practices needed to enhance profitability and viability of their farms. We are fortunate to have these public servants who are solution-minded and not just headline-driven."

More specifically, the Cramer-Noem-Peterson legislation would:

•          Ensure timely determinations. The USDA would be given 60 days to make wetland determinations, after which producers would be protected from penalties during a transition period to come back into compliance.
•          Make the appeals process more efficient. If producers believe a determination is incorrect, they would be given the option of either going through the administrative appeals process or appealing directly to the federal district court.
•          Allow third parties to be better used as a resource to shrink backlog and ensure timely determinations. The USDA would be able to utilize approved third-party data and technical assistance when making a final certification, leveraging outside expertise without a cost to taxpayers.
•          Improve transparency. Clarifies in law the NRCS’s responsibility to share any and all information used for the determination with producers.  Additionally, the legislation puts the burden of proof to the federal government, rather than the producer.

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