Waterways and wetlands, like these in Franklin County, North Carolina, may be affected if rules are rolled back to those before the signing of the Clean Water Act. Photo by Jim Liestman/Flickr. Published under the CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The WOTUS (Waters of the United States) Rule was implemented in 2015 by the Obama administration. The rule was made to clarify which waterways are covered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) through the federal Clean Water Act, which limits the chemicals and other pollutants that can be discharged into “navigable” U.S. waters. A series of lawsuits and legal decisions are also pending related to WOTUS. In late June, the EPA and the US Army Corps of Engineers (Army Corps) issued the first of its two-step proposal to revisit WOTUS in response to a February Trump Administrative directive. The agencies describe the first step as an interim rule to restore the regulations as they existed prior to the WOTUS Rule. The opinions of rural-related leaders and organizations differ, even among groups that claim to represent the same constituencies, such as farmers. Here’s a sampling:
Senator John Barrasso, R-Wyoming
“The rule would have put backyard ponds, puddles and prairie potholes under Washington’s control. I applaud the Trump administration for working to remove this indefensible regulation.”

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt
“We are taking significant action to return power to the states and provide regulatory certainty to our nation’s farmers and businesses. This is the first step in the two-step process to redefine ‘waters of the U.S.’ and we are committed to moving through this re-evaluation to quickly provide regulatory certainty, in a way that is thoughtful, transparent and collaborative with other agencies and the public.”

Zippy Duvall, President, American Farm Bureau Federation
“Farmers and ranchers across this country are cheering EPA’s proposal today to ditch its flawed Waters of the U.S. rule. We know the importance of clean water, and farmers and ranchers work hard to protect our natural resources every day. But this rule was never really about clean water. It was a federal land grab designed to put a straightjacket on farming and private businesses across this nation. That’s why our federal courts blocked it from going into effect for the past two years. Today’s announcement shows EPA Administrator Pruitt recognizes the WOTUS rule for what it is—an illegal and dangerous mistake that needs to be corrected.”

Jim Matheson, CEO, National Rural Electric Cooperative Association
“We appreciate EPA Administrator Pruitt recognizing the need to revisit this overbearing regulation and avoid needless increased costs for millions of electric co-op consumers. As written, the rule would dramatically expand federal oversight of features that only hold water after a rain. This would have increased costs and impaired the ability of co-ops to build and maintain power lines.  We encourage EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers to propose a new common-sense rule that recognizes the role of the states, protects the environment, and allows co-ops to continue providing affordable and reliable power.”

Mark Fix, Rancher, member of Western Organization of Resource Councils and Northern Plains Resource Council, Miles City, MT
“President Trump’s executive order will weaken the Clean Water Act and allow more water pollution. We will lose our ability to grow food and fiber so polluting industries can profit. We irrigate with these waters and know that our rivers and lakes are only clean and usable if the streams that flow into them are clean. The Clean Water Rule protects drinking water and agricultural water by protecting seasonal waters and headwater streams from pollutants. By doing so, it ensures clean water for our farms, families and livestock.”

Alfonso Abeyta, Rancher, Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, San Luis Valley, CO
“It puzzles me when some politicians in Washington don’t want to protect America’s streams and wetlands. You can’t grow food without water. You can’t live without water. Without water, nothing survives. I’m not thinking about myself; I’m thinking about my grandkids. I want them to be healthy and have clean water like I had growing up. I think it’s our job to protect it.”

Land Tawney, President and CEO, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers
“America’s hunters and anglers expect our elected leaders to make decisions that will enhance our unique legacy of wild public lands waters and wildlife. Repealing important provisions in the Clean Water Rule, however, reveals a willingness by the Trump administration to jeopardize this legacy, unraveling a widely popular, publicly vetted approach to securing our nation’s wetlands and headwaters streams and providing greater certainty to farmers and ranchers. From the prairie pothole region of the northern Great Plains on which migratory birds rely to the unspoiled headwaters streams and rivers that sustain wild trout and provide us with drinking water, we all have a stake in clean water.”

National Young Farmers’ Coalition
“Following the charge of many farmers before them, young farmers are managing their operations in a way that puts water stewardship and conservation first. They need a safe and abundant water supply to grow their businesses, and grow food for their communities. Regardless of the outcome of the WOTUS rule, young farmers are focused on making their farms economically and ecologically viable.”

Andrew Rosenberg, Union of Concerned Scientists
“The Clean Water rule has become a cause célèbre for many conservative politicians, a poster child for so-called ‘government overreach’ or ‘bureaucratic excess.’ Unfortunately, as is all too common, much of the overheated opposition to the rule is based on a false narrative. EPA Administrator Pruitt’s approach with WOTUS is, ‘let’s cut the public out of the process and make it easier to listen to friends from industry. Let’s forget about the science. Let’s ignore anyone whose opinion we don’t like or whose evidence doesn’t support our views.’”

Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership
“If this administration wants to put its stamp on the rule, they should honor the years of solution-oriented consensus on the need to reverse wetlands loss, which has been fueled by legal and regulatory confusion. More clarity for headwater streams and wetlands protections should be the baseline standard from which to improve the rule, not the target of a tear-down.”

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