DES MOINES, IOWA, Aug. 8, 2017 - Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt met with farmers, elected officials, and ag industry leaders today to hear feedback on re-writing the Waters of the U.S. Rule (WOTUS) under the Clean Water Act (CWA).
The controversial rule has been put on hold by the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals amid strong opposition from farm organizations, home builders and others who consider it to be an overreach of federal regulations. Shortly after taking office, President Donald Trump issued an executive order to rescind or revise it.
The CWA prohibits the discharge of pollutants without a federal permit into “navigable waters,” defined as “waters of the United States.” But jurisdiction was gradually expanded by the respective agencies in charge of administrating the rule.
The 2015 rule, developed by EPA in conjunction with the Army Corps of Engineers and USDA, expanded the jurisdiction to include a broader definition of “navigable waterways” which added tributaries of any size that “contribute flow,” either directly or indirectly, to a river, lake or sea, even if that flow is miniscule. That includes creeks, streams, ditches, channels and many normally dry areas of a field. And even more categories were added on a case-by-case basis.
Various leaders took aim at the WOTUS rule today during an invitation only meeting.
“I want to thank Administrator Pruitt for traveling to Iowa to hear directly from our farmers about how the WOTUS rule will affect them and how we can work together to get the next version of this rule right,” Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds said.
Speaking to reporters, Reynolds said throughout the roundtable, the word partnership came up a lot. Pruitt talked about how it is “important state and the federal governments work together” Reynolds said.
“The 2015 WOTUS rule released during the Obama administration was a massive federal land grab, creating confusion and uncertainty for regulators, farmers, ranchers and others who depend on their ability to work the land,” Reynolds said.
Other officials who attended the roundtable included Lieutenant Governor Adam Gregg and Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey, who, as Agri-Pulse has reported, is expected to be nominated for a position at USDA, but has not been officially announced. Northey said they had a lot of good conversation about the water quality efforts farmers are doing in Iowa.
“Including nutrient reduction wetlands. Those can get stuck in the definition of the old rule about a permitting process that could delay the process of putting a water quality practice that would reduce nutrients coming off farmland by 50 percent yet it would get held up,” Northey said.
Iowa Farm Bureau President Craig Hill also attended the roundtable discussion, held at IFBF offices.
“This new rule will hopefully provide clarity to farmers. There were 371 electronic pages and 107,686 words that should have not been written and we’re pleased to afford our farmers something more corresponding to the Clean Water Act which we support,” Hill said.
Iowa Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst also attended, along with 50 or so organizations from surrounding states.
Administrator Pruitt has been traveling around the country to 26 states hearing feedback before the comment period on the rule ends August 28. Pruitt spoke to members of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association in Last Chance, Colorado last week.
“This rule created great uncertainty. It created grave situations where people were facing fines and penalties using their own land and we want to fix that. We’re trying to fulfill the promises making sure stakeholders are heard and get this fixed moving forward,” Pruitt said.
Pruitt told participants at the West Des Moines discussion that the Trump administration hopes to propose a new rule by March of 2018.
The public is invited to submit comments at http://www.regulations.gov.
For more on how farmers have faced legal challenges under WOTUS, read: Penalty phase of Duarte case set for trial Aug. 15
For more news, go to: www.Agri-Pulse.com
Agri-Pulse Editor Sara Wyant contributed to this report.