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Noem, Cramer, Peterson Introduce Reforms for More Efficient Wetland Determinations

Jul 13, 2017
Press Release

 

Noem: Brittany Comins

Cramer: Adam Jorde

Peterson: Justin Rostad

Washington, D.C. – Reps. Kristi Noem (R-SD), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), and Collin Peterson (D-MN) today reintroduced the bipartisan Wetland Determinations Efficiency and Transparency Act. This legislation aims to enact permanent reforms that make the wetland determination process more efficient, accountable and transparent.

“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.  This legislation offers real reforms that can help ensure timely and accurate determinations are made from here on out.”

"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 a new Farm Bill on the horizon, I look forward to working with Kristi and Collin, stakeholders and the entire House Agriculture Committee to help make these reforms reality."

“This bill is a needed step to help ensure producers in our region don't face a determination backlog when trying to make improvements to their land. Making drainage improvements to land can increase yields, improve water quality and reduce the risk of flooding,” Peterson said. “This common sense bill will simply make the process more efficient for producers 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.

More specifically, the Noem-Cramer-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 a producer believes 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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