One less burden on rural America

Abolition of the ‘WOTUS’ rule means one less burden on rural America

By Rep. Greg Walden 

For farmers and ranchers across the rural West, the litany of misguided rules and regulations that have threatened their livelihoods is exhaustive. Western growers and livestock producers not only face the immense challenges of growing crops or producing cattle, but they also must manage a patchwork of red tape and looming litigation from onerous environmental policies that are often crafted without their input. 

Case in point is the Obama administration’s “waters of the United States” rule. In meetings throughout rural Oregon, farmers, ranchers, and property owners have repeatedly expressed their concerns to me about this overreaching regulation. This heavy-handed rule ignored congressional intent and local opposition when it expanded EPA’s jurisdiction far beyond the “navigable waterways” that the Clean Water Act originally sought to protect. 

The Obama EPA unilaterally decided that its regulatory reach under this rule could encompass everything from stock ponds and irrigation ditches to vernal pools and driveway puddles. This irresponsible power grab from Washington, D.C. dramatically affected hardworking families in my Oregon district. 

Legal scholars, state attorneys general, and judges on the federal circuit have agreed time and again that WOTUS violates the Constitution. More importantly, as Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito put it in a related 2012 opinion, WOTUS, along with the potential penalties slapped on ordinary Americans for violating the rule, “leaves most property owners with little practical alternative but to dance to the EPA’s tune.” 

Thankfully, President Trump heard the concerns of America’s agriculture community and acted to rein in what he called “one of the worst examples of federal regulation.” Shortly after taking office, Trump ordered his administration to review and replace the previous definition of the “waters of the United States.” Crafted by the feedback of people on the ground, the Trump administration rolled out an encouraging new WOTUS proposal this week. 

Importantly, the new proposal incorporates the input of the farmers, ranchers, and property owners who were most burdened under the previous ruling. Among the key changes: EPA’s jurisdiction will only cover wetlands that are physically and meaningfully connected to navigable waterways. 

The new definition cuts most irrigation ditches out of unnecessary federal regulation. Similarly creative, collaborative efforts to maximize conservation of our water resources through groundwater recharge, or wastewater recycling will not face burdensome federal red tape. And the EPA will no longer pick and choose which individual waters they have jurisdiction over, a practice Oregonians in my district have had to put up with for far too long.

While Trump’s action is a big and welcome step in a better direction for farmers and ranchers in the West who have suffered under the onerous WOTUS rule, it’s now up to Congress to step up to the plate. Without action from the legislative branch, a future executive may try to redefine “waters of the United States” even more broadly than the Obama administration did, requiring subsequent corrective action even stronger than that taken by the Trump administration. 

It’s past time for Congress to cement an appropriate definition of waters of the United States into law through the legislative process. This is the only way we can ensure we are improving America’s water quality without stepping on the necks of rural communities in Oregon and throughout the country. 

Rep. Greg Walden represents Oregon’s second congressional district. 
Click here to read Representative Walden’s op-ed online.

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