Photo Credit: Michelle Rook

On Tuesday, the Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced a new definition for “Waters of the United States” (WOTUS) that would rollback Obama-era regulation. 

In 2015, the Obama administration expanded the definition of WOTUS that, in effect, gave the federal government authority to regulate water on 97 percent of the land in Iowa.

“Our proposal would replace the Obama EPA’s 2015 definition with one that respects the limits of the Clean Water Act and provides states and landowners the certainty they need to manage their natural resources and grow local economies,” EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler said. “For the first time, we are clearly defining the difference between federally protected waterways and state protected waterways. Our simpler and clearer definition would help landowners understand whether a project on their property will require a federal permit or not, without spending thousands of dollars on engineering and legal professionals.” 

“EPA and the Army together propose this new definition that provides a clear and predictable approach to regulating ‘waters of the United States.’ We focused on developing an implementable definition that balances local and national interests under the Clean Water Act,” said R.D. James, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works. “I have heard from a wide range of stakeholders on Clean Water Act implementation challenges. This proposed definition provides a common-sense approach to managing our nation’s waters.”

The new definition is the result of an executive order that President Donald Trump signed that stated it is in the national interest to ensure that the nation’s navigable waters are kept free from pollution, while at the same time promoting economic growth, minimizing regulatory uncertainty, and showing due regard for the roles of Congress and the states under the Constitution.

The new definition provides clarity. Here are some highlights:

  • Outlines six clearly defined categories of waters that will be considered “waters of the United States”
  • Clarifies that most ditches should not be subject to federal control
  • Clarifies that groundwater, prior converted cropland and storm water control systems in upland areas are not subject to federal jurisdiction
  • Excludes ephemeral features that only contain water during rainfall from federal regulation
  • Restores the balance under the Clean Water Act between waters subject to federal jurisdiction and those subject to state/tribal jurisdiction

U.S. Senator Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) applauded the change.

“For years, people impacted by Obama’s WOTUS rule have been in a state of regulatory limbo. The proposed WOTUS rule, released by the Trump EPA, provides much needed predictability and certainty by establishing clear and reasonable definitions of what qualifies as a ‘WOTUS,'” Ernst said. “Iowa’s farmers, ranchers, manufacturers and small businesses can breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that, going forward, a tire track that collects rain water won’t be regulated by the federal government.  I want to thank the EPA, under Acting Administrator Wheeler’s leadership, for ensuring this WOTUS replacement rule was released quickly, and properly, to provide much-needed regulatory certainty to the people of Iowa.”

U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) praised the change.

“I commend President Trump and his administration for stepping up to fix the mistakes of the out-of-touch Obama administration. The Waters of the U.S. rule was an ill-conceived overreach. The rule and its drafting process were flawed from the beginning. It would have defined 97 percent of Iowa as a waterway, meaning that if implemented, family farmers and other small business owners would have had to get permission from Washington bureaucrats to move soil on dry land,” Grassley said.

“The move announced today by the Trump administration would set commonsense limits on state versus federal jurisdiction over waterways and make it simpler to comply with regulations aimed at improving water quality. I want to thank President Trump for his leadership, for keeping the promise he made to Rural America to repeal this rule and for providing commonsense regulatory relief to the people of Iowa and Americans across the country,” he added.

Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds commended the new definition. 

“I want to thank Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler and President Donald Trump’s administration for listening to stakeholders across this country when rewriting the Water of the United States (WOTUS) rule,” Reynolds stated.

“I was able to host members of the administration in our state on more than one occasion to discuss WOTUS with Iowa farmers, business and industry leaders, and stakeholders. I appreciate not only the acting administrator’s willingness to travel to Iowa to hear directly from those impacted, but also his willingness to factor their concerns into the new rule. 

“The new WOTUS rule provides much needed stability to our farmers after years of uncertainty from the Obama administration’s massive federal overreach with the original WOTUS rule. I encourage all stakeholders to submit public comments over the next 60 days as this rule moves through the rule-making process,” Reynolds added.

Photo Credit: Michelle Rook

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