EPA’s WOTUS Repeal Draws Bipartisan Support, Western Praise
The Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to unravel the 2015 “Waters of the United States” (WOTUS) rule last week drew immediate bipartisan support, as the agency took the first concrete procedural steps to revoke the regulation after the Trump administration issued an executive order in February.
“I strongly support the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposal to withdraw the Waters of the U.S. rule. I am hopeful this action will start the process of bringing much needed relief for farmers, ranchers, rural businesses and local governments,” Rep. Collin C. Peterson (D-MN), ranking member on the House Committee on Agriculture said in a statement following the announcement.
“Administrator [Scott] Pruitt committed to me earlier this year that they would make this a priority, and I will continue to do what I can in Congress to support common sense solutions.” Peterson proposed legislation in 2015 that would have required the EPA to withdraw the WOTUS rule.
“We are taking significant action to return power to the states and provide regulatory certainty to our nation’s farmers and businesses,” said Pruitt in a statement last week.
Reactions from the West, where the saying “water is for fighting over” is a political truism, showed members of the Congressional Western Caucus, state attorneys general, farmers, ranchers, and small businesses welcoming the move to “ditch the rule.”
Members of the Congressional Western Caucus lauded the EPA’s new direction on WOTUS. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), called the 2015 rule “one of the most burdensome EPA rules” from the previous administration. Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) agreed, saying the effort to “expand federal control and regulations well beyond the initial scope of Waters of the U.S.” had “threatened the loss of precious resources for hardworking ranchers and farmers in Wyoming, and if left unchecked, would have devastated our rural economy.”
“The proposal to rescind this flawed rule is a step in the right direction,” said Ken Hamilton, Wyoming Farm Bureau executive vice president. “This rule was a land grab that put property rights of Wyomingites at risk and would have done nothing to benefit water.”
The WOTUS rule took effect at the end of June 2015 but was immediately met with a flood of litigation with over half of the states eventually suing to challenge the rule. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit granted a nationwide stay in October of that same year. The EPA seeks to recodify the language in an effort to keep the definition of WOTUS in the Clean Water Act as it was prior to the implementation of 2015 Clean Water Rule.
“We are thankful this Administration is working to draw clear lines in terms of what is and what is not jurisdictional under the Clean Water Act,” said Texas farmer Wesley Spurlock, president of the National Corn Growers Association, explaining that government regulations should make “these actions easier, not more difficult.”
“In doing so, they will enable farmers to implement best management practices such as grass waterways and buffer strips without the burden of bureaucratic red tape or fear of legal action,” said Spurlock.
“This is the first step in the two-step process to redefine ‘waters of the U.S.’ and we are committed to moving through this re-evaluation to quickly provide regulatory certainty, in a way that is thoughtful, transparent and collaborative with other agencies and the public,” Pruitt said, outlining the process to rescind the WOTUS rule.
After the executive order signed by President Donald Trump in February, the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began taking steps to rescind the 2015 Clean Water Rule which expands the definition of “waters of the United States” (WOTUS) as used in the Clean Water Act. The controversial WOTUS rule grants the EPA authority to reach into backyards, potholes and puddles across the United States, creating what the American Farm Bureau’s counsel called a “potential” liability for small businesses and farmers and others said would lead to economic “uncertainty” across the country.
U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) helped introduce bipartisan legislation in 2015 to address the flawed WOTUS rule. “This over-reaching rule was unworkable for folks across North Dakota—and today’s action is a step toward fixing it. Farmers and ranchers can’t put a crop in the ground or raise livestock without certainty about how regulations impact them, which is why undoing this rule is so critical,” Heitkamp wrote.
“We know the importance of clean water, and farmers and ranchers work hard to protect our natural resources every day. But this rule was never really about clean water. It was a federal land grab designed to put a straightjacket on farming and private businesses across this nation. That’s why our federal courts blocked it from going into effect for the past two years,” said American Farm Bureau Federation president Zippy Duvall.
“This is great news for stronger job growth throughout New Mexico. Under the WOTUS Rule, Washington bureaucrats were given complete authority to regulate small streams along with natural and manmade ditches on lands owned by farmers, ranchers, and small businesses,” U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce (R-NM) said. “This unlawful expansion of power proposed by the Obama Administration would drive up costs for landowners and cost thousands of jobs. I’m pleased to see the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers recommit to strengthening rural economies.”