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Ditch the rule

Aug 25, 2017

Did you submit your comments? If not, you still have time. The official comment period to repeal the Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS)— a.k.a. the “Clean Water Rule” proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)—has been extended to Sept. 27. I hope all of you reading this take the time to submit comments, because no matter what facet of agriculture you are in, this rule would impact production agriculture. No doubt, if you are a regular reader of this publication you have seen the coverage about this rule and realize the importance of this issue.

I remember when I first heard about the proposed WOTUS rule. I was at a legislative fly-in in Washington D.C. for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) in the early spring of 2014. The newly appointed EPA Administrator, Gina McCarthy, was kind enough to address a room full of cattlemen from all over the country and answer questions.

One of her final points was that the WOTUS rule would be published in order to provide updates to the Clean Water Act of 1972. Then-President Barack Obama had called upon the EPA to clarify and strengthen a piece of the legislation that had come into question regarding water pollution and non-navigable waters. What we ended up with was a rule that was far overreaching and would result in a pile of red tape for producers.

If you took the time to read the WOTUS rule, it was obvious that the EPA went much further than was needed to clean up the 1972 Act. The lengthy and burdensome rule made it appear the government saw itself as more responsible for managing the water and the lands associated with the water than those who have owned and managed the lands for generations. Needless to say, I—along with over a million other people—voiced our opinions against the initial rule by the December 2014 comment deadline.

Fast forwards a couple of months and I was back in Washington D.C. in the spring of 2015. I, along with approximately 50 other cattlemen from around the U.S., were granted a meeting with EPA officials at their office. Their message from the start was clear: The EPA was given a bad rap by agriculture groups and they wanted to mend fences and start being friends. It was a warm and fuzzy meeting. It almost made you want to sing Kumbaya.

When we switched to the last bullet point of the meeting the tone changed drastically, however. The “Clean Water Rule”—the EPA officials stopped referring to it as “WOTUS” by this point because of all the bad press—needed to happen in their eyes. They were mad at groups like ours for spreading bad press and that we folks in agriculture just did not understand.

No matter what points we brought up, the EPA officials did not want to hear them. When asked about the comment process for the rule, they revealed that they had received an unprecedented number of comments for a rule such as this. But instead of addressing those comments, they were going forward with the rule as proposed. I left that meeting hot under the collar and relieved that my flight left in a couple of hours, because that administration did not want to be questioned about their motives.

Fast forward to present day. Agriculture groups and states did not take the proposed rule sitting down. A judge in North Dakota, siding with reason and common sense, granted an injunction to block the regulation mere hours before it would have taken effect. Now, with a new administration and a new head of EPA with Administrator Scott Pruitt, it looks as though common sense may end up ruling the day. Many agriculture groups have met with the new EPA administration and have urged their members to comment to “Ditch the Rule.” I hope you have as well.

Now, in recent days Administrator Pruitt did come under some heat and accused of already having his mind made up about WOTUS. In an interview while on his State Action Tour he used some talking points from NCBA, which is well known to oppose the rule. I believe the administrator is actually getting out to the country and is listening to the constituents who will be most directly affected by this rule; something that was lacking from prior administration officials. I applaud this administration for getting out to the country. Though I have not personally met Administrator Pruitt yet, I can already tell that he is more open to preserving agriculture and food production, the backbone of our country. — DEVIN MURNIN

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