Farm Progress

EPA begins process to repeal WOTUS rule, an important first-step toward providing clarity for Clean Water Act regulations on agriculture.

July 5, 2017

5 Min Read
CLEAN WATER RULE: On June 27, EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers took the first step to rescind and replace the embattled Waters of the United States, or WOTUS, rule.

Farm groups are cheering last week’s announcement by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that it will formally rescind the Waters of the United States rule. The proposal to repeal the rule is to be published soon in the Federal Register, beginning a 30-day public comment period.

The WOTUS rule has been controversial since it was first unveiled several years ago. “We’ve been keeping an eye on this issue,” says John Heisdorffer, an Iowa farmer and vice president of the American Soybean Association. “This is an unfortunate example of the positive goal of clean water being obstructed by unworkable and impractical federal regulation. Farmers cannot operate without clean water, and each of us takes his or her role as a steward of that resource very seriously. The WOTUS rule, however, put creeks, streams and ditches that crisscross our farms into an overly broad, one-size-fits-all regulatory definition that made no sense for our individual farms.”

Heisdorffer adds, “We are happy to see the rule is now in the process of being withdrawn. This action from EPA is a significant step toward greater certainty for farmers. We look forward to sitting down with U.S. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and his team to help build a practical and workable plan to safeguard water quality.”

Need to draw clear lines as to where rules apply
The goal of the Clean Water Act is to restore and maintain the integrity of the nation’s waters. “The 2015 rule moved us further away from the goal,” says National Corn Growers Association President Wesley Spurlock. “We are thankful the Trump administration is working to draw clear lines in terms of what is and is not jurisdictional under the Clean Water Act.”

In doing so, EPA will enable farmers to use best management practices such as grass waterways and buffer strips without the burden of bureaucratic red tape or fear of legal action, says Spurlock. “These types of land improvements have enormous water quality benefits, such as reducing sediment and nutrient runoff — a win for farmers and the environment. Government should be making these actions easier, not more difficult.”

Spurlock adds, “We salute EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for their efforts. We stand committed to working with these agencies as they develop a new rule that defines the boundaries of the waters to be regulated, in clear terms that include the realities of farming.”

Livestock farmers applaud repeal of rule
National Cattlemen’s Beef Association President Craig Uden calls withdrawal of the WOTUS rule “another great step in the right direction. The Trump administration deserves credit for injecting some much-needed common sense into our nation’s environmental regulations. It’s important to remember, though, that the WOTUS rule isn’t dead yet. The rulemaking process continues, and NCBA will submit and solicit additional comments on behalf of America’s cattle producers, so we finally get the clarity we need on land-use policy.”

EPA’s plan to repeal the WOTUS rule is welcome news for pork producers, says a statement released by the National Pork Producers Council, based in Des Moines. The WOTUS rule, as introduced in 2015, broadened EPA’s jurisdiction over “navigable” waters to include, among other waterbodies, 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.

“The WOTUS rule was a dramatic overreach and an unprecedented expansion of federal authority over private lands,” says NPPC President Ken Maschhoff.

Rulemaking process continues, public comments
NPPC played a leading role in representing the ag community’s opposition to the WOTUS rule, producing maps showing the extent of the lands affected by the regulation. For example, EPA’s jurisdiction in Missouri would have increased to cover 77% of the state under the rule. Most all of rural Iowa would have been affected.

NPPC also led legal efforts against the rule, filing suit in U.S. District Court and presenting a brief to the U.S. Court of Appeals. The appellate court halted implementation of the WOTUS rule shortly after its Aug. 28, 2015, effective date.

U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, says EPA’s June 27 proposal to withdraw the WOTUS rule is “great news for accountability in government. This rule was a bad regulation drafted under a bad process. EPA over-reached its authority and ignored and manipulated legitimate concerns raised by the public. Farmers, landowners and builders in Iowa struggled to make sense of the regulation,” says Grassley.

He adds, “Having the federal EPA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers require permits for routine land-use decisions is a waste of resources that are better used enforcing existing regulations against discharging pollutants into the nation’s waterways. Agencies ought to enforce the laws as Congress intended, not stretch beyond their authority to inflict unnecessary expense and red tape on law-abiding farmers and employers.”

EPA to review, develop new definition
Joni Ernst, Iowa’s junior U.S. senator, also a Republican, says, “I’m pleased the Trump administration is taking another step toward eliminating this burdensome WOTUS rule. In Iowa, 97% of the land is subject to extensive overregulation by EPA, which unnecessarily hamstrings our farmers, businesses and manufacturers. All across Iowa, folks are calling for this rule to be scrapped. I urge farmers and all others who are affected by WOTUS to submit public comments to EPA regarding the need to ‘ditch the rule.’ We need to eliminate this overreaching regulation.”

EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers still have a long way to go before a new rule is in place to define “Waters of the U.S.,” but the Trump administration clearly is trying to accelerate the process.

On Feb. 28, President Donald Trump directed EPA to prepare for public notice and comment to a proposed rule to rescind or revise the Clean Water Rule. The June 27 announcement by EPA that it will repeal the current WOTUS rule and hold a public comment period marks the first step of a two-step process. After gathering public comment, EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers will engage in a review of the appropriate scope of the “Waters of the United States” and develop a new definition.

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