The American Farm Bureau Federation, Texas Farm Bureau, Matagorda County Farm Bureau, and 11 other agricultural and industry groups today asked a federal court to vacate the controversial new rule redefining the scope of federal jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act.
The complaint, filed in federal district court in Texas, claims the new rule grants EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers broad control over land use far beyond what Congress authorized in the Clean Water Act. The lawsuit also claims vagueness and over-breadth of the rule violate the U.S. Constitution. The groups also challenged EPA’s aggressive grassroots advocacy campaign during the comment period, which reflected a closed mind to concerns expressed by farmers and others.
EPA and the Corps first proposed the rule in March 2014, promising clarity and certainty to farmers, ranchers, builders and other affected businesses and landowners. “Instead we have a final rule that exceeds the agencies’ legal authority and fails to provide the clarity that was promised,” AFBF General Counsel Ellen Steen said. “AFBF filed this lawsuit to do everything we can to protect the interests of farmers and ranchers, but litigation is not a quick or perfect fix. It is long, cumbersome and expensive, and it leaves farmers and others facing immediate harm and uncertainty under this rule.”
While AFBF and others turn to the courts, a bill currently before the Senate, if passed, would require EPA and the Corps to abandon the rule and conduct a new rulemaking. “Lawsuit or no lawsuit, we need Congress to act,” AFBF President Bob Stallman said. “We need legislation that requires an honest rulemaking from EPA. EPA water regulations must protect water quality without bulldozing the rights of farmers and others whose livelihoods depend on their ability to work the land.”
According to the AFBF complaint, “the Agencies are determined to exert jurisdiction over a staggering range of dry land and water features—whether large or small, permanent, intermittent or ephemeral, flowing or stagnant, natural or manmade, interstate or intrastate.” The “opaque and unwieldy” rule “leaves the identification of jurisdictional waters so vague and uncertain that Plaintiffs and their members cannot determine whether and when the most basic activities undertaken on their land will subject them to drastic criminal and civil penalties under the (Clean Water Act).”
The AFBF lawsuit follows four similar suits filed by officials representing 27 states, all within two days of the rule’s publication on June 29. A group of nine states—West Virginia, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, South Carolina, Utah and Wisconsin—has asked a federal district court in Georgia for a preliminary injunction to stop implementation of the rule while the lawsuit is resolved. Ohio and Michigan have a separate suit in Ohio also seeking preliminary relief. “We appreciate the leadership and dedication of all the states that have challenged the rule, and we fully support their efforts,” Steen said.
AFBF’s co-plaintiffs are the American Petroleum Institute, American Road and Transportation Builders, Leading Builders of America, National Alliance of Forest Owners, National Association of Home Builders, National Association of Manufacturers, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, National Corn Growers Association, National Mining Association, National Pork Producers Council and Public Lands Council.