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Republicans, rural groups praise WOTUS withdrawal

The Environmental Protection Agency started the process to withdraw the Clean Water Rule, also known as the Waters of the United States rule, which won praise from Republicans in Congress and rural leaders, but condemnation from environmentalists.

The rule is expected to be published in the Federal Register soon, and will be subject to public comment.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Michael Conaway, R-Texas, said, "WOTUS has never been about clean water. It was about feeding the Obama EPA's insatiable appetite for power. Well, that ends now. (June 27's) EPA announcement is an important first step to getting the federal government out of America's backyards, fields and ditches and restoring certainty and integrity to our regulatory process.

"But our work isn't done," Conaway continued. "As the case of California farmer John Duarte clearly highlights, the (Army Corps of Engineers) and (Justice Department) also need to re-evaluate and revise their enforcement of the Clean Water Act and WOTUS to ensure we protect our farmers and ranchers from onerous fines and penalties that threaten their way of life. I have confidence this administration will get the policy right and allow farmers and ranchers to be the capable stewards of the land they've always been."

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said, "I'm pleased Administrator (Scott) Pruitt and the EPA has listened to our concerns and has taken an important first step to rescind the infamous WOTUS rule. For too long, this rule has burdened not only farmers and ranchers, but landowners of all sizes, across the country.

"With a rewrite of the WOTUS rule, I look forward to seeing a rule that recognizes and respects the environmental strides taken by the American farmer and rancher," Roberts added. "I'm grateful to have an EPA that listens to and addresses the concerns of rural America — a vital segment of our economy and true stewards of our natural resources."

The move was also praised by the Colorado Cattlemen's Association.

"CCA enthusiastically supports the administration's efforts to rescind the 2015 WOTUS rule, along with numerous states and state groups involved with the Environmental Protection Agency," the group said in a press release. "Immediately after the issuance, the 2015 rule was challenged in multiple courts by all sides — 32 states and 53 non-state parties — including environmental groups, municipal entities, farmers, landowners, developers, businesses and recreation groups."

LAND GRAB

American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall said, "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," he continued. "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. (The) announcement shows EPA Administrator Pruitt recognizes the WOTUS rule for what it is — an illegal and dangerous mistake that needs to be corrected."

Duvall added, "Farm Bureau looks forward to supporting Administrator Pruitt's proposal. EPA should ditch this rule once and for all, go back to the drawing board, and write a new rule that protects water quality without trampling the rights of businesses and the states."

National Association of State Departments of Agriculture President and Louisiana Commissioner of Agriculture Michael Strain said, "The EPA has sided with state and local governments, farmers, landowners, and small businesses in their decision to rescind this burdensome regulation. The 2015 rule lacked clarity, and was fraught with procedural concerns and violations of congressional intent, making it necessary to start over with a new rule that protects clean water and respects state regulatory authority. State laws and programs partner with EPA, farmers and ranchers, and local entities to protect clean water every day. We look forward to working cooperatively with the EPA in developing — and eventually implementing — a new rule."

National Pork Producers Council President Ken Maschhoff, a pork producer from Carlyle, Ill., said, "This is great news for America's pork producers. The WOTUS rule was a dramatic government overreach and an unprecedented expansion of federal authority over private lands. It was the product of a flawed regulatory process that lacked transparency and likely would have been used by trial lawyers and environmental activists to attack farmers."

National Potato Council CEO and Executive Vice President John Keeling said, "NPC applauds the proposed rule, which seeks to remedy an unnecessary federal overreach. NPC has gone on record as a strong supporter of reducing regulatory burdens that inhibit growers' ability to farm. Revoking this flawed WOTUS proposal is a positive step toward that goal."

ENVIRONMENTALISTS AGAINST

But Kierán Suckling, executive director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said, "Pruitt is smashing everything he touches at the EPA. Revoking the Clean Water Rule will open the door to the pollution and bulldozing of some of America's most important wetlands. From vernal pools in California to prairie pothole ponds in the Midwest, small wetlands provide essential habitat to hundreds of endangered species, birds and migrating wildlife."

John Rumpler, Environment America's senior attorney and clean water program director, said, "Repealing the Clean Water Rule turns the mission of the EPA on its head: Instead of safeguarding our drinking water, Scott Pruitt is proposing to stop protecting drinking water sources for one in three Americans. It defies common sense, sound science and the will of the American people.

"Clean water is vital to our ecology, our health, and our quality of life," he added. "We are already seeing drinking water contaminated by algal blooms and toxic chemicals, and a dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico that scientists now estimate will be the size of New Jersey this summer. The last thing we should do is weaken protections for our water.

"Finalized in 2015, the Clean Water Rule restored federal protections to half the nation's streams, which help provide drinking water to one in every three Americans. The rule also protects millions of acres of wetlands that provide wildlife habitat and keep pollutants out of America's great waterways, from the Great Lakes to the Chesapeake Bay to Puget Sound.

"More than 800,000 Americans — including more than 1,000 business owners, local officials, farmers, and health professionals — supported the historic clean water rule. On the other side, the most vociferous opponents of the rule include the oil and gas industry, coal companies, developers, and lobbyists for corporate agribusiness," Rumpler added.

"We call on the EPA to reconsider this reckless repeal and stand up for our drinking water, not for polluters." ❖