With the new rule, WOTUS was no longer defined by being just navigable water where you could float a boat. Now the federal government considered dry farmland or a roadside ditch that was occasionally wet following a rainstorm to be bodies of water, too.
Regulatory reform has long been a priority for farmers. Numerous local, state and federal agencies have a say in almost every aspect of farming. The regulations, paperwork and costs can be quite burdensome when all you want to do is get out into the fields and do your job of growing food and caring for livestock.
This is why Farm Bureau was so concerned when the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers went down the controversial path to greatly expand the Clean Water Act by redefining the “Waters of the U.S.” With the new rule, WOTUS was no longer defined by being just navigable water where you could float a boat. Now the federal government considered dry farmland or a roadside ditch that was occasionally wet following a rainstorm to be bodies of water, too. That never made much sense to farmers.
This defies the plain wording of the Clean Water Act as intended by Congress who writes the laws of the land, not federal agencies. Congress did not write the Clean Water Act to give the federal government unlimited control over all water. Because of the WOTUS Rule as implemented, farmers simply cannot reliably know what is and is not regulated. A mistake can mean $50,000 a day in fines or a loss of use of farmland entirely. This action places an undue burden and increased regulatory control on farmers with no added benefit to the environment.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency told us that they would exempt standard farm practices. Therefore, it should not be a big deal to switch from growing wheat after using the land for grazing, for instance. Actually, that scenario turned into a big deal after the EPA condemned the land, even forbidding it from being cultivated for many years. California farmer John Duarte is fighting such a charge in Tehama County, California.
Farm Bureau has been aggressive in challenging the rule. At the national level, the Ditch the Rule campaign brought many of our issues to light. New York Farm Bureau members sent thousands of postcards to the EPA asking officials to withdraw the rule until reasonable changes could be made. Instead, the EPA launched a counteroffensive to discredit publicly what farmers were saying. Launching a website and a social media campaign, and funding anti-farm billboards are not wise uses of taxpayer money, especially at a time when the EPA was asking for public comments. The U.S. Government Accountability Office also issued a legal opinion, upon completing an investigation, which found EPA had broken the law with its lobbying campaign advocating for its own rule.
Luckily, we were not alone in opposing the WOTUS rule. Nearly 30 states sued the EPA citing that both Congress and the Supreme Court had drawn a reasonable distinction between federal and state waters that the EPA’s proposal ignores. In turn, two federal courts have blocked the rule for now, but we need much more to be done. President Trump has stepped forward to ask the EPA to review the rule with the hope that it will be rescinded. Farmers across the country and in New York applauded the reasonable request. However, we cannot let up in opposing the rule until it has been reversed.
This does not mean we are looking to dismantle regulations that have proven value in keeping our water clean in this country. Healthy natural resources are important for what we do every day. It is why we value being good environmental stewards. We just want sound environmental policy that has scientific justification to back up the decision-making. We need a balance that is workable on farms in this country.
We are confident the courts will find this is a violation, and we will look to our congressional representatives to hold the EPA accountable to follow the intent of the law that Congress established under the Clean Water Act. It is Farm Bureau’s goal to pursue rational and effective environmental policies. Necessary regulations are one thing. A federal agency that oversteps its bounds and circumvents Congress is quite another.