WASHINGTON, D.C. — After years of aggressively lobbying the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to “ditch the rule” that would’ve dramatically extended its authority under the Clean Water Act, a Trump Administration executive order today is expected to accomplish exactly that.
The directive instructs new EPA Director Scott Pruitt to undo what’s been commonly known as the “Waters of the U.S.” rule, which in farmers’ eyes would stretch the agency’s regulatory authority upstream, into every open farmland drain and even onto dry land.
Farm Bureau has decried the rule as a regulatory land grab of Biblical proportions.
“Obviously we’re called the Great Lakes State for a reason, but beyond that Michigan’s a pretty wet place overall,” said Laura Campbell, manager of the agricultural ecology department at Michigan Farm Bureau (MFB). “A huge portion of our richest farmland here is arable solely thanks to the enormous network of open agricultural drains—farm ditches, basically—that’ve been dug and maintained for more than a century.
“Most of these drains are so small you could easily jump across them, and just as many are flat-out dry most of the time—they don’t carry water unless it rains.”
Farmers overwhelmingly agreed such minor watercourses shouldn’t fall under the same regulatory framework as navigable waters, but Campbell said that’s exactly the situation WOTUS would’ve imposed had it been fully implemented.
“Even temporary puddles—low spots in fields that’d hold standing water after a rain event—would’ve been regulatable by the feds under WOTUS,” Campbell said.
The proposed rule had the state’s blueberry producers particularly worried. With much of Michigan’s blueberry bushes rooted in on squishy, hydrologic soils—easily mistaken for true wetlands—growers would’ve faced a regulatory burden that could’ve proven disastrous.
Michigan and Georgia are neck-and-neck co-leaders in blueberry production, nationally.
Congressman John Moolenaar represents Michigan’s Fourth Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives, and has fought against the measure since its announcement in 2015.
“I promised to fight this EPA regulation when I first ran to serve the people of mid- and northern Michigan, and today’s decision is a victory for individual property rights and the 15,000 farmers of my district,” Moolenaar said. “It is encouraging to see the Trump Administration side with the hard-working farmers on this issue.
“Farmers are our country’s best conservationists because their well-being depends on the land for a bountiful harvest. By withdrawing this regulation, the EPA will be better able to focus on its core mission of ensuring clean water and protecting the Great Lakes from invasive species.”
The executive order instructs the EPA to begin the process of rescinding the rule and developing a replacement. That process requires the same comment and review procedure as the original rule.
The move drew similar kudos from the highest level of the nation’s farm sector.
“President Trump’s executive order … is a welcome relief to farmers and ranchers across the country today,” said Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation. “The flawed WOTUS rule has proven to be nothing more than a federal land grab, aimed at telling farmers and ranchers how to run their businesses.
“The Environmental Protection Agency failed to listen to farmers’ and ranchers’ concerns when drafting the rule and instead created widespread confusion for agriculture.
“Farmers and ranchers have been calling for a common-sense approach to regulatory reform. EPA has too long been characterized by regulatory overreach that disregards the positive conservation efforts of farmers and threatens their very way of life. Today’s action is as much a beginning as an end, and there is much work to do to ensure that any revised rule is transparent and fair for America’s farmers and ranchers.”
— Michigan Farm Bureau
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