“All agricultural exemptions and exclusions from Clean Water Act requirements that have been developed over 40 years have been retained or expanded,” Stoner said.

Many conservation practices will be permitted under the new rule without permit. “Through coordination with USDA, EPA and the Army Corps … 56 conservation practices that protect or improve water quality will not be subject to Clean Water Act dredged or fill permitting requirements. This is being done through an interpretive rule that was published at the same time as the proposed rule and will go into effect immediately.” Those practices include: Conservation cover, wildlife habitat restoration, wetland enhancement, riparian forest buffer, tree/shrub establishment, and stream crossings.

Permits also will not be necessary for certain practices approved through the Natural Resource Conservation Service.

Agricultural interests are in the process of evaluating the rule and waiting to take a hard stand one way or the other.

Keith Menchey, manager of the National Cotton Council’s Science and Environmental Issues, explained the council’s current thinking.

“The Council is carefully analyzing the proposed rule to determine its impact on the cotton industry,” Menchey said.  “We are consulting the members of the Council's Environmental Task Force to ensure we have the growers' perspective. We want to better understand how the proposed rule affects current farming practices and whether it is a significant expansion of authority. The proposed rule is one of the most expansive we have had to evaluate in recent times and the Council will devote significant resources to fully review and comment on it."

The USA Rice Federation also responded with caution when reporting release of the proposed rule to its members. “The USA Rice Federation will review the proposed rule and submit official comments after it is published in the Federal Register,” it said in its daily e-newsletter.

Legislator response has ranged from an outright attack on the proposed rule by Sen. Roy Blount, R-Mo. – calling it an attempt by the Obama administration to take control of Americans’ private properties—to a more constrained response from Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., who said:

“I encourage citizens to carefully review this proposal and weigh in with EPA to ensure that regulations like this one are based on sound science, consider economic impacts and demonstrate common sense.”

Blunt added: “This proposed rule would have a devastating impact on Missouri farm families, and it has serious implications for productive activities like dredging, filling, and drainage nationwide.”