Federal Water Tap, July 9: House Ag Committee Releases Draft Farm Bill

The U.S. House Agriculture Committee published a draft version of the 2012 Farm Bill, which is estimated to save US$35 billion over 10 years. The committee will discuss the 557-page piece of legislation on July 11 (find the committee’s summary here). In the draft, grants for rural water and wastewater projects are cut in half, to US$15 million per year; grants to help poor, rural residents drill water wells is also cut in half, to US$5 million per year.

The bill would reduce the number of acres in a federal erosion-protection program, setting a cap of 25 million acres (10 million hectares); the Conservation Reserve Program, which pays farmers not to grow crops on sensitive soils, currently enrolls 29.6 million acres (12 million hectares).

Oil Spill Fine
For spilling enough crude oil to cover a football field a yard deep in muck, the U.S. affiliate of a Canadian energy company faces a proposed US$3.7 million civil penalty. It would be the largest such fine ever issued by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, a U.S. Department of Transportation agency.

Enbridge Energy, which operates the pipeline that ruptured in July 2010 and spilled at least 1 million gallons into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River, has 30 days to respond to the proposal. Inside Climate News reports, in a 4-part investigation, that the spill is the most expensive oil pipeline spill since the U.S. government began keeping records in 1968.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has extended the public comment period for its draft rule on using diesel fuels in hydraulic fracturing. Comments are now due August 23.

Water Case
The U.S. Supreme Court will take up a case to determine who is responsible for polluted runoff in Los Angeles County, California, the Los Angeles Times reports. Last year, a federal appeals court ruled that the county’s flood control district was to blame.

Whistleblower for Water

The U.S. Department of Labor entered into a whistleblower-protection settlement agreement with one of the world’s largest chicken-producers, after the company fired an employee who said that water-borne pollutants released from a Texas processing plant should be reported. Pilgrim’s Pride will pay the former employee US$50,000, notify current employees of their whistleblower rights, and provide a neutral job reference. The former employee agreed not to ask for reinstatement at the company.

Split Decision
The future of a proposed Indian water rights settlement is in doubt, after it was approved by the Hopi Tribe but rejected by the Navajo Nation last week, Indian Country Today Media Network reports. The settlement would resolve outstanding claims to the Little Colorado River and provide money for water supply projects.

Great Lakes
The International Joint Commission, which manages waters shared by the United States and Canada, is considering a new protocol for regulating lake levels and river flows in the upper Great Lakes basin. This week, the commission will hold a series of public meetings in the U.S. to discuss the proposed changes.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is looking for people to serve on a board that will advise federal agencies on Great Lakes water issues. Nominations are due July 30.

Federal Water Tap is a weekly digest spotting trends in U.S. government water policy. To get more water news, follow Circle of Blue on Twitter and sign up for our newsletter.

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