Opponent of new water rule says it lacks clarity

faucet running

~ Press release provided by Virginia Farm Bureau Federation

WASHINGTON — The Waters Advocacy Coalition, which includes organizations representing U.S. agriculture, has expressed disappointment in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s and Army Corps of Engineers’ final Waters of the United States Rule, released in late December.  

Its details, coalition members assert, are murky, whereas farms and other businesses need rules that are crystal-clear.  

The coalition is made up of nearly 50 organizations representing agriculture; energy; infrastructure; construction and real estate; manufacturing; mining; specialty pesticides; state departments of agriculture; and other job creators. Among the agricultural member organizations is the American Farm Bureau Federation

In a Dec. 30 statement, coalition members said, “The regulated community and many states have called for a rule that provides the clarity and certainty essential for predictable and efficient permitting. Unfortunately, the agencies failed to pay attention to the input they received during their public comment process, as well as their regional roundtables on the proposed rulemaking. Instead, the rule’s reliance on vague terms will make it very difficult for any business or individual trying to comply with the Clean Water Act — let alone the many small businesses that we represent.”  

The new Waters of the U.S. Rule will replace the Navigable Waters Protection Rule put in place during the Trump Administration.  

“Waters of the U.S.” refers to oceans, rivers, streams, lakes, creeks, marshes and wetlands considered jurisdictional under the Clean Water Act and in the regulatory jurisdiction of the Army Corps of Engineers.  

AFBF President Zippy Duvall said Farm Bureau “is extremely disappointed” in the new rule. Farmers and ranchers share the goal of protecting the nation’s waterways, he noted, “but they deserve rules that don’t require a team of attorneys and consultants to identify ‘navigable waters’ on their land.”  

The new rule, Duvall continued, creates “more complicated regulations that will impose a quagmire of regulatory uncertainty on large areas of private farmland miles from the nearest navigable water.  

“Even more puzzling is the administration’s insistence on moving forward with a new rule while the Supreme Court is about a to issue a decision on the scope of the Clean Water Act.”  

Such a ruling, he said, “could send WOTUS back to the drawing board.”  

Courtney Briggs, AFBF senior director of governmental affairs, said the new rule “allows the federal government to expand their jurisdictional reach over private property” and relies on criteria “which will require landowners to hire environmental consultants, attorneys and engineers to ensure that they are in compliance. … There are civil and criminal liabilities attached to Clean Water Act compliance, and that is why it’s so incredibly important to have a clear line of jurisdiction.”  

Ben Rowe, national affairs coordinator for Virginia Farm Bureau Federation, concurred. The Navigable Waters Protection Rule, he said, “was a step forward for the agriculture industry, but this new rule reverses those workable regulations and will have a substantial effect on the ability of farmers to continue to utilize their land without needing costly legal or consulting expertise. This rule is a return to more uncertainty for farmers and comes ahead of a forthcoming Supreme Court ruling that could upend federal Clean Water Act jurisdiction and require the EPA to again rewrite the rule in late 2023.”  

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