December 14, 2012
The Honorable Lisa Jackson
Environmental Protection Agency
1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20460
RE: Draft Nonpoint Source Program and Grant Guidelines for States and Territories
Dear Administrator Jackson,
The North Dakota Stockmen’s Association (NDSA) respectfully submits the following comments on the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) draft Sec. 319 Nonpoint Source Program Guidelines for States and Territories (“guidelines”). However, we note that the guidelines are incomplete. Two appendices are missing from the package, making full meaningful comments impossible to provide.  EPA has not indicated the comment period will be further extended, revealing the need for NDSA to comment on what has been provided. NDSA reserves the right to add to or amend these comments as necessary once the complete package is made available.
The NDSA is an 84-year-old producer-directed beef cattle trade organization representing nearly 3,000 North Dakota beef producers. The NDSA is an advocate of cattle producers who are stewards of the land and conservationists of the soil, air and water. These beef producers own and operate facilities that produce or contribute to the production of the livestock that provide safe and affordable food to people across the world.
  1. NDSA Supports the Sec. 319 Program
The Clean Water Act (CWA) Amendments of 1987 created the Sec. 319 program to help states and local governments address water quality issues in their jurisdictions. Cattle producers have utilized these funds over the twenty plus years the program has been in existence, putting thousands of conservation measures on the ground to protect water quality. Ranchers in North Dakota are the foremost stewards of our states waters. As environmentally conscience producers strive to continually improve their environmental footprint, these cost-shared programs are essential for continued improvements. The taxpayer dollars invested in this program help cattlemen and women protect the environment while providing the world with high quality, affordable beef. Without these programs many practices would be too expensive to be implemented. In certain instances, without the 319 program, operations would be shut-down due to costs. NDSA supports continued funding of the 319 program, as well as continued efforts to streamline the process for states and producers.
Many of the changes proposed by EPA would improve the 319 program. Everyone understands the need for these efforts in a time where the pool of available dollars continues to dwindle. NDSA supports the removal of procedural hurdles for states wishing to utilize 319 funds for protection of priority waters. Efforts such as this would allow states and territories to quickly move projects forward and would increase the environmental benefits per dollar spent on the program. NDSA also supports EPA’s efforts to coordinate more closely with Farm Bill programs. Considering the related goals of many of these programs with the Sec. 319 program, emphasis on coordination efforts should have been made in past guidelines but NDSA is encouraged the agency has recognized this fact and is moving forward.   
  1. EPA Should Allow More Flexibility, Not Less
The proposed guidelines include a major change in required uses of the funds made available to the states under the 319 program. Section IX.B.i. of the guidelines requires states to use 50 percent (50%) of their 319 funds to “implement watershed projects guided by WBPs” (watershed based plans). This 50% set-aside is a major change that reduces the flexibility states and localities need in these times of tight budgets. NDSA urges EPA to recognize that it is the states that are able to determine the wisest use of these dollars. It is imperative as budgets continue to be reduced that states have the flexibility they need to utilize the dollars in creative ways that can maximize the environmental benefit for each taxpayer dollar. We understand EPA’s intent to direct dollars toward WBPs implementation but the strict requirement could end up hurting overall environmental protection. NDSA encourages EPA to instead make this requirement a suggestion to encourage the practice but provide the necessary flexibility for states.
  1. Eligible Activities
The list of eligible activities that can be funded by the NPS program funds under the guidelines includes: “non-regulatory or regulatory programs for enforcement; technical assistance, including staffing ; financial assistance; education; training; technology transfer; demonstration projects; and eligible NPS monitoring” as well as “planning activities such as revisions to the state NPS management programs, development or implementation of WBPs (or acceptable alternatives), and the development of certain NPS and mixed source TMDLs.” Guidelines at 21. However, the list eligible for watershed project funds is much smaller. EPA’s guidelines suggest that very few alternative plans will be allowed to use watershed project funds and only in extremely rare cases would state staff pay be eligible. The guidelines have successfully boxed in 50% of the needed funding under the 319 program, limiting the state’s ability to utilize the program. The guidelines should provide more flexibility for states to allocate moneys where they see the most environmental benefit.
With the focus on implementing practices on the ground, NDSA would also suggest the list of eligible items for both NPS program funds and watershed project funds include projects that specifically focus on priority BMPs designated by state nonpoint source management plans. Many more activities that states must engage in to address nonpoint source water quality issues would only be eligible for half of the funding. This requirement could reduce the number of overall conservation practices that producers are able to put on the ground. This is no doubt the opposite of EPA’s intent, but by limiting the use of funds in such a strict manner EPA could see a reversion in the positive water quality impacts the 319 program has had to date.
  1. Conclusion
NDSA appreciates EPA’s efforts to improve the efficiency of the 319 program so that taxpayers get the greatest return on their investment. As producers who implement many of these projects and practices, cattlemen and women share the same goal of improving their environmental impacts and protecting water quality. However, NDSA believes EPA should reevaluate provisions in the guidelines that hamstring state agency efforts to protect water quality and should instead strive to provide them with the maximum flexibility possible.
Jason Zahn,
North Dakota Stockmen’s Association