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White House Releases Revised WOTUS Rule

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Citing a “need for clarification,” The White House has released revised Clear Water Act regulations, known as Waters of the US (WOTUS). In a statement, the President said the rule would “restore protection for the streams and wetlands that form the foundation of our nation’s water resources, without getting in the way of farming, ranching, or forestry.”  While the President said the new rule provides clarity, farmers are not so sure it does. The American Farm Bureau Federation said it is currently reviewing the new document but is skeptical it adequately addresses farmers concerns. “The process used to produce this rule was flawed. The EPA’s proposal transgressed clear legal boundaries set for it by Congress and the Courts and dealt more with regulating land use than protecting our nation’s valuable water resources. EPA’s decision to mount an aggressive advocacy campaign during the comment period has tainted what should have been an open and thoughtful deliberative process. While we know that farmers and ranchers were dedicated to calling for substantial changes to the rule, we have serious concerns about whether their comments were given full consideration,” said AFBF in a statement released after the new rule was announced.

NCBA said the new regulations do anything but provide certainty, “Under the guise of clarifying the Clean Water Act, the EPA and the Army Corps added ambiguous language to the law that leaves regulation up to the subjectivity of individual regulators across the country.” Philip Ellis, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association President, said this is a clear indication there is no intention of considering the concerns of those most impacted by the rule.

One of the sharpest critics of the EPA in Congress released a stinging condemnation of the revised rule and the agency. Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts said, “The release of the nearly 300-page, finalized WOTUS rule raises more questions than it answers about the expansion of federal jurisdiction under EPA’s Clean Water Act. In March, the Committee held a hearing on the impacts of the WOTUS rule and heard from farmers, ranchers and rural constituencies from Kansas and around the country. The message was clear: this is the wrong approach and the wrong rule for agriculture. I am sorry to say, as expected, the rule is bad news for rural America.”

House Ag Committee Chairman Collin Peterson expressed similar disappointment with the EPA release, “I am disappointed but not surprised that the EPA has decided to move forward with a rule that would increase confusion and red tape. Farmers, ranchers, local communities and businesses all expressed concern with the negative impacts of this rule. Despite that, EPA either wasn’t willing to listen or simply just does not get it.”

Legislation that would force EPA to scrap the rule is under consideration in both the Senate and the House.

The EPA said, in a release, “The rule does not create any new permitting requirements for agriculture and maintains all previous exemptions and exclusions.” But the National Corn Growers Association, based in Missouri, says show me. “We especially want to ensure that the broad promises made in the EPA press release are carried out in the text of this comprehensive rule,” said Chip Bowling, Maryland farmer and President of the NCGA.  The American Soybean Association said they will be reviewing the details of the revised rule over the next several days,  before taking a position, “We voiced strong opposition to the original version, and while we are encouraged by the agency’s willingness to revisit the rule and potentially address farmer concerns, we are very much in a ‘trust but verify’ mode.”

Environmental groups were quick to applaud the revised rule. “We applaud the Obama Administration for taking this vital step to safeguard the nation’s clean drinking water,” said Bob Irvin, President of American Rivers.   “For too long, polluters have exploited legal confusion to destroy or dump dangerous waste in our waterways with impunity,” said Michael Brune, Executive Director of the Sierra Club. “Now, President Obama and the EPA have helped put an end to that by restoring the Clean Water Act and helping ensure millions of miles of American waterways are protected for the enjoyment of the American people, not polluters.”