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After coal win, states seek similar relief for farms

By ADAM BEAM
Associated Press

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — They beat the EPA on coal, and now a group of state attorneys general hopes to score a similar victory on farming.

Attorneys general from nine states sued the Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday over a new rule they say gives the federal government much more power to regulate farms and streams. The lawsuit comes one day after the U.S. Supreme Court blocked an EPA rule for coal-fired power plants, a ruling that originated from a lawsuit filed by many of the same states.

The latest lawsuit is about who can regulate streams and ponds that are often found on small farms. The EPA wants to regulate these waterways, arguing that one-third of Americans get their drinking water from such sources. But some states argue the proposed regulations are too burdensome and would force homeowners and farmers to get federal permits to do such things as dig a ditch, build a fence or spray fertilizer.

“This overly burdensome rule flies in the face of the tradition of environmental regulation, which is to allow states to develop their own responses in how they deal with what’s required by the Clean Water Act,” Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway said, who joined attorneys general from Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, South Carolina, Utah, West Virginia and Wisconsin to file the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the southern district of Georgia.

Monica Lee, a spokeswoman for the EPA, declined to comment on the lawsuit. But she said the agency reviewed more than 1 million public comments before proposing the rule and reviewed more than 1,200 studies that show “small streams and wetlands play an integral role in the health of larger downstream water bodies.”

“The agencies developed a rule that ensures that waters protected under the Clean Water Act are more precisely defined, more predictably determined, and easier for businesses and industry to understand,” she said.

The lawsuit will not be resolved for some time, but it will likely impact Kentucky’s fall elections. President Barack Obama is so unpopular in Kentucky that Alison Lundergan Grimes, the 2014 Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate, refused to answer questions on whether she voted for him. Republicans have already seized on this latest issue as an example of the Obama administration intruding into people’s lives.

The issue is playing heavily in Kentucky’s race for Commissioner of Agriculture, where the Republican and Democratic candidates both oppose the rule. And it marks the second time Conway, the Democratic nominee for governor, has sued Obama’s administration.

Daniel Kemp, Conway’s campaign spokesman, called the lawsuit an example of Conway “standing up to President Obama’s administration on policies that hurt Kentucky families.”

“Attorney General Conway’s lawsuit against President Obama’s EPA is a clear example of how he always puts Kentucky values first, even if that means breaking with the national party,” Kemp said.

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