Has the White House declared war on farmers and ranchers?

The brunt of the Bush administration’s rush to expand energy development in western states has been most directly borne by rural voters. Water-intensive gas-extraction procedures run ranchers’ wells dry and expel water so salty it’s toxic to crops. Gas compressor stations and their generators pump sulfur dioxide and carbon monoxide into the air. Livestock drink from uncovered drip pans containing antifreeze and perish. “People can’t believe this can happen to them until their own ox is gored,” says Jill Morrison of Wyoming’s Powder River Basin Resource Council, which works with rural communities facing environmental concerns.

If that wasn’t stunning enough, now there’s this, courtesy of The Washington Post … in March the EPA proposed regulating drinking water quality differently in rural America than in the rest of the nation.

Bottom line: If you live in a community of less than 10,000 people, your water would be permitted to contain three times the level of arsenic as your counterparts in urban and suburban areas. (The proposal is open for public comment until May 1.)

The logic is that smaller communities have more trouble than other areas paying to update and repair water treatment systems. But isn’t this a clear case where the federal government should step in to bridge the gap — not shrink away?

Update: More on the EPA proposal here from Carl Pope, who notes that one community that would be at risk is Crawford, Texas.