EPA blocks WOTUS implementation

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt announced Jan. 31 he has signed a rule blocking implementation the Obama administration’s Clean Water Rule or Waters of the United States rule that would have delineated the nation’s water quality law.

On Jan. 30, the White House completed its review of the WOTUS rule to postpone until 2020, after just five days of scrutiny.

“We are working very aggressively to finalize the rule and you should see some action quickly,” David Ross, EPA assistant administrator for water, told the gathering of state agriculture officials in Washington.

The U.S. Supreme Court struck down a nationwide ban on WOTUS Jan. 22, and the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have been speeding to stop the rule ever since. The Supreme Court could issue its final order to enforce its decision as early as Feb. 15, which means the rule would take effect across most of the country. A district court has blocked the rule from taking effect in 14 states already.

The Trump administration pledged to rewrite and rescind the 2015 rule, which it said expands federal authority over local land-use decisions and imposes costly permitting burdens.

The EPA and corps plan to hold more consultations with state water, environmental and agriculture officials to find out where they should draw the line on the geographic reach of the Clean Water Act, Ross said, as was reported by Bloomberg News.

“How far up the watershed should we go? Where should we draw the line and why? Why does it matter?” Ross said.

He encouraged states to provide recommendations.

“My job is to listen and make sure we are asking the right questions so we can make the right decisions,” Ross said.

Reaction from members of Congress and industry was solidly in favor, while environmental groups were livid and have said they’ll challenge the administration in court.

National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Chief Environmental Counsel Scott Yager said in a statement the “action from EPA and the Army Corps ensures the 2015 WOTUS Rule never comes back. We thank Administrator Pruitt and his team for this prompt action which protects agricultural producers across the country and we look forward to the next steps—repeal and replace.”

American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall said in a statement his group “applauds today’s action by the U.S. EPA and Army Corps of Engineers to delay implementation of the hopelessly vague 2015 rule that expansively defined ‘waters of the United States.’

“That rule would have put a stranglehold on ordinary farming and ranching by treating dry ditches, swales and low spots on farm fields just like flowing waters. Without today’s action, countless farmers and ranchers, as well as other landowners and businesses, would risk lawsuits and huge penalties for activities as common and harmless as plowing a field.

“Today’s announcement is part of a measured and thoughtful process to provide regulatory certainty to farmers and ranchers while the agencies continue the important work of withdrawing and rewriting the unlawful 2015 WOTUS rule. America’s farmers value clean water as much as anyone, and they work hard every day to protect it. But they deserve clear rules, too.”

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-KS, said, “The Obama administration’s infamous ‘WOTUS’ rule, which burdened rural America with regulatory red tape, is now pushed back two years. This will provide certainty to the regulated community and give EPA time to rewrite the rule while listening to farmers, ranchers and landowners’ concerns, the very folks who were ignored by the previous administration. I’m pleased we now have an administration that is willing to do that.”

Jon Devine, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said, “The Clean Water Rule protects the bodies of water that feed the drinking water supply for one in three Americans. It also safeguards wetlands that protect communities and homeowners from flood damage, along with the lakes and rivers where our families fish, boat and swim.

“EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is racing the clock to deny protections for our public health and safety. It’s grossly irresponsible and illegal—and we’ll challenge it in court.”

Bob Irvin, president of American Rivers, said, “By delaying the Clean Water Rule, the Trump administration is making clear that it has no intention of protecting our rivers, wetlands and clean water. Without the Clean Water Rule’s critical protections, innumerable small streams and wetlands that are essential for drinking water supplies, flood protection and fish and wildlife habitat will be vulnerable to unregulated pollution, dredging and filling.”

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“This action is unwise, harms the public and violates the law. We will challenge the administration in court and look forward to defending clean water for families and communities,” Irvin said.

Larry Dreiling can be reached at 785-628-1117 or [email protected].