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EPA Finalizes WOTUS Decision, Farm Groups React Negatively

The Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers announced a final rule establishing the definition of “Waters of the United States.” They say the rule reduces uncertainty from consistently changing regulatory definitions, protects people’s health, and supports economic opportunity. Farm groups, however, vehemently disagree.

The final rule restores essential water protections that were in place before 2015 under the Clean Water Act for traditional navigable waters, the territorial seas, interstate waters, and the upstream water resources that significantly affect those waters.

“Following extensive stakeholder engagement, EPA is delivering a durable definition of WOTUS that safeguards our nation’s waters, strengthens economic opportunity, and protects people’s health,” says EPA Administrator Michael Regan. “It also provides greater certainty for farmers, ranchers, and landowners.”

Michael Connor, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, says, “This definition provides clarity long desired by farmers, industry, environmental groups, and other stakeholders. It also allows for more effective rule implementation.”

Hoosier Ted McKinney, now CEO of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA), said in a statement, “The EPA’s latest rule on defining ‘waters of the United States’ is a statement of federal overreach that ignores states’ authority to regulate intrastate water quality and the Clean Water Act’s statutory mandate for cooperative federalism. In turn, although we recognize EPA’s attempt at clarifying through a roster of exemptions, its rule ignores the voices of nearly all in American agriculture who have long been seeking clarity on this issue, especially regarding the debate over what is and is not a navigable water.”

American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall also weighed in, saying, “AFBF is extremely disappointed in the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers’ new Waters of the United States Rule. Farmers and ranchers share the goal of protecting the nation’s waterways, but they deserve rules that don’t require a team of attorneys and consultants to identify ‘navigable waters’ on their land. EPA has doubled down on the old significant nexus test, creating more complicated regulations that will impose a quagmire of regulatory uncertainty on large areas of private farmland miles from the nearest navigable water.

“Even more puzzling is the administration’s insistence on moving forward with a new rule while the Supreme Court is about to issue a decision on the scope of the Clean Water Act. A ruling in the Sackett case could send WOTUS back to the drawing board, so it makes no sense for EPA to issue a rule that will only cause more disruption and uncertainty.”