Groups file complaint over EPA WOTUS rule

By Agri-Pulse staff

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, July 2, 2015 - A coalition of 12 groups from a wide variety of industries filed a complaint today against the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers over the Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule, claiming the new provision goes beyond the intentions of the Clean Water Act.

The complaint, filed in a Texas federal district court, comes after 27 states filed four similar lawsuits within two days of the rule's June 29 publication. The WOTUS rule, first proposed in March of 2014, has been hotly contested within the agricultural community. Opponents of the rule say it is an example of the federal government trying to exercise broad control over land use, which they claim is unconstitutional. The final rule is set to take effect Aug. 28, 60 days after it was published in the Federal Register.

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Co-plaintiffs on the case include the American Farm Bureau Federation, 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. The Matagorda County and Texas Farm Bureaus are also listed as plaintiffs.

Philip Ellis, president of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, said the rule fails to clarify several important issues, making it the “top priority . . . for all landowners nationwide.”

He said cattlemen have long asked for greater clarity around the Clean Water Act, but the rule “does the opposite, rendering jurisdictional determinations so vague and subjective that our members cannot possibly make a determination as to what basic ranching activities will subject them to criminal and civil penalties under the Clean Water Act…We remain committed to working with the administration, Congress and through the courts to stop this rule.”

National Pork Producers Council President Ron Prestage called the final rule “an abuse of discretion and not in accordance with law.” He said the final rule should be set aside and a new regulation should be developed.

“We all want clean water,” Prestage said. “But this rule isn't about clean water, it's about EPA and the Corps taking over private property, growing the size of government and micromanaging hundreds of farming and business activities.”

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Many expected legal action on the rule, as most of the co-plaintiffs have been vocally opposed to the WOTUS rule since the agencies first proposed it. However, Ellen Steen, general counsel with the American Farm Bureau Federation, said they viewed litigation as the final option.

“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,” Steen said in a release. “It is long, cumbersome and expensive, and it leaves farmers and others facing immediate harm and uncertainty under this rule.”

Public Lands Council President Brenda Richards concurred, saying litigation is “a last resort to exercise our rights against regulation, but producers have determined that this is a necessary step.”

Legislative efforts to address the issue are underway in both chambers of Congress, and the groups are hopeful that either appropriations riders or standalone legislation in the House and Senate will move forward. However, legislation reversing the rule would likely receive a veto from President Barack Obama.

“Lawsuit or no lawsuit, we need Congress to act. We need legislation that requires an honest rulemaking from EPA,” said AFBF President Bob Stallman. “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.”

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