In move that many in rural America were waiting for, President Trump signed an executive order asking the EPA to reconsider the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule. The order comes after a federal court put the rule on hold while legal challenges to the rule were litigated. The newly-minted EPA Secretary Scott Pruitt was a big critic of the EPA and WOTUS, and has promised to kill the rule.
If you’re a little unsure of what the heck WOTUS is, and why farmers are happy it’s going away, you can read my previous commentary on it here and here. As a brief summary, the EPA promised that the proposed rule would clear up some ambiguities about what is considered a “navigable water” under the Clean Water Act, but it seemed to only create more confusion. Specifically, farmers were concerned that it could include drainage ditches and occasional puddles in fields. That could mean that every time we wanted to apply inputs to our fields, we would have to apply for the EPA for a permit. Unfortunately, crops cannot wait several months for the federal bureaucracy to issue a permit if they’re being threatened with pests and weeds.
The American Farm Bureau Federation, which has largely led the battle against WOTUS – both through advocacy and the court system, applauded the President’s actions today. AFBF President Zippy Duvall issued a statement saying:
President Trump’s executive order to ditch the Waters of the U.S. rule is a welcome relief to farmers and ranchers across the country today.
The flawed WOTUS rule has proven to be nothing more than a federal land grab, aimed at telling farmers and ranchers how to run their businesses. The Environmental Protection Agency failed to listen to farmers’ and ranchers’ concerns when drafting the rule and instead created widespread confusion for agriculture. Under the rule, the smallest pond or ditch could be declared a federal waterway.
Farmers and ranchers have been calling for a common-sense approach to regulatory reform, and today the Trump administration responded to that call. EPA has too long been characterized by regulatory overreach that disregards the positive conservation efforts of farmers and threatens their very way of life. Today’s action is as much a beginning as an end, and there is much work to do to ensure that any revised rule is transparent and fair for America’s farmers and ranchers.
Now, before we begin celebrations, WOTUS isn’t quite over just yet. While President Trump’s executive order asks the EPA to reconsider the rule, and it is very likely Secretary Pruitt will do just that, there is a still a formal process. The EPA will have to start with a proposal to repeal it, notice and comment periods, and issuing a final rule repealing it. There is no doubt that we will see certain groups, who are already attempting to peg this as a great threat to our nation’s water, fight to keep the rule.
However, I am confident that this is the first step in eliminating WOTUS and saying goodbye to it for good!