New WOTUS Rule Proposal Brings Optimism

Brian German Regulation, Water

The Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers have proposed a new draft of the Waters of the United State rule, known as the WOTUS rule, that seeks to clarify federal authority under the Clean Water Act.  The new proposal seeks to restore more authority to state and local governments and would remove federal jurisdiction over many ditches, and streams that only hold water when it rains.

WOTUS Rule“This welcome action from the EPA and Army Corps will help bring clarity to Clean Water Act regulations and help farmers know where federal jurisdiction begins and ends.  President Trump is making good on his promise to reduce burdensome regulations to free our producers to do what they do best – feed, fuel, and clothe this nation and the world,” said U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue.

Originally issued by the Obama Administration back in 2015, the WOTUS rule has created significant confusion as to what is and is not considered a water body falling under the jurisdiction of the federal government.  The proposed update looks to establish national consistency compartmentalizing different water bodies such as navigable waterways and tributaries, ditches, lakes and ponds, impoundments and adjacent wetlands.

“Clear rules and clean water – that’s what the EPA should stand for, and today’s announcement marks a hopeful new chapter for farm country…I applaud this administration for listening to concerns raised by farmers and ranchers and their representatives in Congress. I am eager to see a rule that restores integrity to the regulatory process and supports American agriculture as it seeks to preserve our natural resources,” said House Agriculture Committee Chairman K. Michael Conaway.

As a next step, the proposed rule will be posted in the Federal Register and become open for public comment.  Many farmers and ranchers have expressed optimism that the new definition will help alleviate much of the confusion and frustration surrounding the current understanding of the rule.

 “After years of uncertainty stemming from the 2015 WOTUS rule, the Trump Administration’s new water rule represents a fresh start for America’s cattle producers…The proposed water rule provides safeguards to keep our waters clean and clear rules for landowners to follow. We look forward to engaging with the Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers to finalize the rule,” said National Cattlemen’s Beef Association President Kevin Kester.

 “We will review the proposal carefully in the hope it will restore balance to enforcement of the Clean Water Act,” California Farm Bureau Federation President Jamie Johansson said.  “We hope the new Clean Water Rule will provide the clarity farmers and ranchers need to allow the continued production of food and farm products while conserving natural resources.”

While much of the agricultural industry has issued varying levels of support, the new proposal is not without criticism.  “While this is an improvement from EPA’s unreasonable and illegal 2015 definition of navigable waters, it still falls well outside the Supreme Court’s plurality opinion defining the limits of Clean Water Act jurisdiction,” Pacific Legal Foundation Senior Attorney Tony Francois said. “Despite assurances that the new definition would clarify what is regulated, landowners will still face uncertainty, high consulting costs and aggressive assertions of jurisdiction from agency enforcers. Army and EPA bureaucrats still have far too much power to regulate private property, and they will continue to abuse that power without meaningful reforms.”

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Brian German

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Ag News Director, AgNet West