Farm groups applaud withdrawal of WOTUS rule


GRAND FORKS, N.D. — Farm group leaders were predictably pleased Tuesday, June 27, with the announcement that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has filed an official proposal to withdraw the controversial Waters of the United States rule.

"This is good news. There has just been so much uncertainty for growers," said Theresia Gillie, a Hallock, Minn., farmer and president of her state Soybean Growers Association.

Daryl Lies, a Douglas, N.D., farmer and president of the North Dakota Farm Bureau, said the announcement "is a big deal and a great day for agriculture."

WOTUS, as it's commonly known, would redefine how "waters of the United States" are subject to federal regulations under the Clean Water Act. A wide range of farm groups strongly opposed WOTUS, which sought to protect clean drinking water by increasing federal authority to regulate major river and lakes, as well as smaller streams and wetlands.

Supporters say WOTUS would have ended ambiguities over who controls navigable rivers and interstate waterways, and enhanced efforts to maintain clean water supplies.

Tuesday's action was widely expected.

The rule — part of the Obama administration's environmental efforts — had been criticized by President Donald Trump, who in February issued an executive order directing EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and the Army Corps of Engineers to review it. Pruitt's recommendation to revoke the rule is based on that review.

WOTUS was unpopular with ag groups nationwide, but North Dakota ag producers were particularly critical of it. Sloughs, potholes and other small, often temporary bodies of water are common in the state, and North Dakota farmers worried about the impact of WOTUS.

"We (North Dakota) really are the last frontier, so to speak, when it comes to small bodies of water — be it sloughs or temporary poolings of water in our field," Lies said. "The rule under the Obama administration basically was going to monitor every drop of water that hit your field if it did any kind of pooling for any amount of time."

If left intact, WOTUS "could have been been a real headache and nightmare" for North Dakota farmers and ranchers, Lies said.

Lies said he met in April with Pruitt, who talked then about rolling back the Obama administration's WOTUS definition.

A number of North Dakota elected officials, including Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, issued statements applauding Tuesday's development.

In his statement, Stenehjem said he and several of his colleagues have been involved in litigation since the rule was released in 2015. He also noted that he obtained an injunction preventing the rule from taking effect in North Dakota.

"While there is still a lot of work to be done to resolve this issue, this is an important step forward in the process of restoring the states' control over their own waters," Stenehjem said.

A number of national ag groups, including the National Cattlemen's Beef Association and the National Corn Growers Association, expressed strong support for Tuesday's announcement.

But there were critics, too, including the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and the National Wildlife Federation. The groups said in written statements that EPA's decision threatens wildlife and businesses that rely on clean water for hunting and fishing.