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WOTUS issue still out there — and deserves attention

TAGS: Regulatory EPA
green field with tree line
WOTUS LIVES: You may think the WOTUS issue is dead, but it’s not. Indiana Farm Bureau urges you to continue watching it. It could affect what happens to wet spots in your fields.
The Environmental Protection Agency backed off enforcing the original rule, but the issue isn’t dead and forgotten.

Many farmers and leaders of farm groups breathed a sigh of relief in 2017. President Donald Trump directed U.S. EPA not to enforce the infamous WOTUS rule. It stands for Waters of the U.S.

Tension mounted a few years ago when EPA decided to update the definition of what it considered were navigable waters of the U.S. As the rule was originally announced, it wasn’t clear whether EPA considered even small wet spots in farm fields to fit under the broad definition it proposed. If so, then EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers could, in theory, claim jurisdiction of those lands. It seemed obvious to nearly everyone in agriculture that it was pure land-grabbing, and that the Clean Water Act was never intended to have such far-reaching consequences. However, it wasn’t clear to EPA and the administration at that time.

Indiana Farm Bureau became heavily involved in urging farmers to write EPA during the comment period, protesting such efforts to possibly include wet areas within a field under the Clean Water Act.

I attended one of IFB’s regional meetings, held in Dave Meier’s toolshed near Greensburg. Elected officials were there, and farmers expressed their dismay with what EPA was proposing. One avenue was for Congress to pass a law effectively making the rule null and void, but the political climate in Washington, D.C., at the time prevented that from happening.

When EPA issued the final rule, it still wasn’t clear what it meant for agriculture. Lawsuits and court rulings ended up blocking the rule.

Still unresolved
Enter Trump and his announcement that WOTUS would be shelved. There was just one problem: Even though the rule wouldn’t be activated, the issue didn’t just go away. Those who jumped for joy and thought this was the end of WOTUS were premature in their happiness.

Visiting Mike Starkey in his farm shop near Brownsburg, Ind., last summer, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, formerly a staunch opponent of EPA before he was named to the post, noted that while the administration had saved agriculture from WOTUS, EPA still needed a solution. He told Indiana Prairie Farmer that it would be based on common sense.

Fast-forward another six months. The issue still hangs in limbo. While many of you may assume it’s dead and buried, and you can worry about more important things like earning a living on cheap corn and soybean prices, Justin Schneider and other IFB legislative analysts insist WOTUS is still worth watching. In a recent issue of The Dispatch, IFB’s weekly update on state and federal legislative issues, the headline read “WOTUS must still be top of mind.”

IFB experts say EPA must come up with another fix, even while it tries to repeal WOTUS. Until it does, IFB says legislators need to hear why this issue needs to be resolved. The American Farm Bureau is launching a social media campaign to make legislators aware of the continuing WOTUS threat, and IFB will participate. Experts urge members to be ready to tell federal legislators how their farm could be affected unless this issue is resolved.

So instead of “out of sight, out of mind,” make sure to keep WOTUS a priority if you get to talk to a representative or senator.

Comments? Email tom.bechman@farmprogress.com

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