Farmers: “New EPA Rule Will Threaten U.S. Food Security”

The battle over the Clean Water Act is heating up as lawmakers call on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to rescind its December rule.

In a letter sent Thursday, January 26, 2023, U.S. Representatives Dan Newhouse (R-WA), Mary Dooling (R-MT), Dusty Johnson (R-SD), and Liz Cheney (R-WY) urged EPA Administrator Michael Regan and Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works R.D. Connor to rescind the new rule. They claimed it would make it difficult for farmers and ranchers to ensure food security.

Punishing rural communities in the West and across America for which clean water matters most is unfair due to this outdated rule’s ongoing legal ambiguities. Our lawmakers have spoken on behalf of these hardworking people who need certainty now more than ever.

The new WOTUS (waters of the United States) definition was issued in December and would expand which water sources — such as puddles, groundwater, many ditches, farms, stock watering ponds, and waste treatment systems all fall under federal protection. As a result, farmers, ranchers, and small business owners could face jail time and thousands of dollars in fines daily for making changes to their property.

The U.S. has been locked in a dispute over how to define protected water sources for over a decade. The Trump administration repealed the Obama-era definition last year, but this change was overturned by a federal judge in 2021 who reinstated an earlier version of these regulations before those implemented by President Trump.

As the EPA’s Supreme Court case, Sackett v. EPA, continues to unfold concerning a family in Idaho that was prohibited from building on their lot due to fears of navigable water disruption by the agency, lawmakers have proposed rescinding this rule altogether.

In a warning letter, GOP lawmakers expressed their concerns that the proposed changes could mean farmers and ranchers would need to acquire agency permits for mundane activities such as clearing out ditches, applying pesticides, altering what crops are grown in fields, or even setting up fences or ponds. Such demanding permitting processes require significant time and money investments from affected individuals who often hire attorneys and consultants to meet them.

In their letter, the lawmakers implored the EPA to suspend any further action until after a decision is made in Sackett v. EPA, expressing that “the American people deserve an assurance of stability and security against criminal prosecution or financial difficulties if they are unable to comply with constantly evolving guidelines.”

This news comes when many farmers, ranchers, job creators, and landowners are already struggling due to economic uncertainty caused by COVID-19. The GOP’s call for an immediate repeal of this rule adds even more stress to these individuals who rely on water resources for their livelihoods.

The Clean Water Act has been contentious for many years and especially concerns rural communities. It remains to be seen whether or not the EPA will take action in response to the letter by the Republican lawmakers, but it is clear that this battle over water rights is far from over.

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