Waterway through grassed area petcharaPJ/ThinkstockPhotos

EPA proposes rule to repeal and rescind WOTUS

Ag groups cheer proposal, which is expected to be published soon in Federal Register.

EPA Administration Scott Pruitt will propose a rule to rescind and repeal the Waters of the United States rule. The proposal is expected to be published in the Federal Register in the next few days.

The WOTUS rule has been controversial since it was proposed. In 2007 and 2008, guidance was developed for implementing the rule in response to a Supreme Court decision. In 2015, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit stayed the revised definition and on Feb. 28, 2017, President Trump issued an executive order directing the EPA and Department of the Army to review and rescind or revise the 2015 rule.

The key complaint about the rule was the definition. EPA’s jurisdiction had included “navigable” waters and waters with a significant hydrologic connection to navigable waters. But the WOTUS rule broadened that to include, among other water bodies, upstream waters and intermittent and ephemeral streams such as the kind farmers use for drainage and irrigation. It also covered lands adjacent to such waters. 

"… This rule was never really about clean water," said American Farm Bureau president Zippy Duvall. "It was a federal land grab designed to put a straightjacket on farming and private businesses across this nation. That’s why our federal courts blocked it from going into effect for the past two years. Today’s announcement shows EPA Administrator Pruitt recognizes the WOTUS rule for what it is—an illegal and dangerous mistake that needs to be corrected." 

"The expanded authority of the ‘Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS)’ gave the federal government the ability to dictate how people could use their personal property and farmland around small, insignificant collections of water and circumvented the will of Congress," said Georgia Commissioner of Agriculture Gary W. Black. "I applaud Administrator Pruitt's proposal to reverse this clear and blatant overreach of the government’s power.”

“This is great news for America’s pork producers,” said NPPC President Ken Maschhoff, a pork producer from Carlyle, Ill. “The WOTUS rule was a dramatic government overreach and an unprecedented expansion of federal authority over private lands.

“It was the product of a flawed regulatory process that lacked transparency and likely would have been used by trial lawyers and environmental activists to attack farmers,” Maschhoff added. “We’re extremely grateful to President Trump and EPA Administrator [Scott] Pruitt for recognizing the dire consequences this ill-advised Obama-era regulation would have had on pork producers and all of American agriculture.”

"This is another great step in the right direction, and the administration deserves a great deal of credit for injecting some much-needed common sense into our nation's environmental policies," said National Cattlemen's Beef Association President Craig Uden. 

"Ranchers in the West are already subject to an elevated level of regulatory overreach, and the WOTUS rule as written would have only made the problem worse," said Dave Eliason, Public Lands Council president. "It is reassuring to see the steps that this administration is taking to relieve some of that regulatory burden and provide certainty for our producers.”

"We are happy to see the rule withdrawn, and the action this week from EPA is a significant step toward greater regulatory certainty for soybean farmers," said ASA vice president and Iowa farmer John Heisdorffer. "We look forward to sitting down with Administrator Pruitt and his team at EPA to help build a practical and workable plan to safeguard water quality in our nation’s growing regions.”

Other opinions
“This proposal strikes directly at public health,” said Natural Resources Defense Council president Rhea Suh. “It would strip out needed protections for the streams that feed drinking water sources for one in every three Americans. Clean water is too important for that. We’ll stand up to this reckless attack on our waters and health.”

What's next
The rule isn't repealed yet. Once the proposed repeal is published, it will be subject to a public comment period.

Uden said the NCBA will submit comments on the proposed repeal, aiming for a clear land use policy.

"EPA should ditch this rule once and for all, go back to the drawing board, and write a new rule that protects water quality without trampling the rights of businesses and the states," Duvall said. 

“With a rewrite of the WOTUS rule, I look forward to seeing a rule that recognizes and respects the environmental strides taken by the American farmer and rancher," said Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry.

Source: NCBA, AFBF, NPPC, Sen. Pat Roberts, EPA, Natural Resources Defense Council, ASA, Georgia Department of Agriculture

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