Last week President Trump started the process to modify WOTUS – the Waters of the United States – rules. These rules were put in place in 2015 when the Supreme Court changed the definition of navigable waters.
Under President Obama the EPA wrote a rule that allowed them to monitor just about any action that affected waters that could possibly drain into a river that could be used for navigation and thus, for interstate commerce. It’s the classic example of government overreach. It’s the end result of a good idea – the idea that we all want and need clean water – gone horribly wrong.
When the rule change happened, not everyone understood the importance of it. Many farmers and ranchers did; they saw that the new rule put the government in control of just about any patch of land, from a ranch to a city lot. If that land got wet with rain and that water could wash away and eventually reach a stream, then what happened on that land was the government’s concern.
There was an immediate uproar from land owners around the country, and the bureaucratic excesses began almost as fast. Many farmers and ranchers had their worst fears realized and found the EPA was telling them they couldn’t even plow. One judge called dirt moved a few inches by a plow a pollutant, because it was now out of place. A Wyoming cattleman had to take out a pond he’d built to water his cattle just because he’d used sand, rock and brick from another site and the pond was no longer made of native materials.
The lawyers were rubbing their hands with glee. Lawsuits and appeals flourished, with environmental groups applauding the EPA’s actions. The American Farm Bureau Federation went to work and led the battle against WOTUS. President Trump’s election was very important to this battle.
The order is a big deal, but it isn’t quite over just yet. Secretary Pruitt will have to tell the EPA to write a proposal to repeal the rule, and there will be plenty of discussion during the comment periods. No doubt, we will hear lots of noise from certain groups, who are already firing up campaigns to keep the rule. However, the hope is, as long as the President and his appointees don’t get too distracted with other matters we should see a revised rule, one that we can live with, on the books soon.
I’m Len Wilcox and that’s the Western View from AgNet West.