An executive order that was issued Tuesday by President Donald Trump directed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to withdraw and reconsider the Waters of the United States rule, a move that was backed by Congressman Jeff Denham (R-Turlock), who said both the EPA and USACE “overstepped their authority.”
“EPA and the Army Corps clearly did not consider the impact to ag economies like we have in the Central Valley,” said Denham. “I support President Trump’s order to force its reconsideration and include stakeholder input that was not sought under the Obama administration.”
WOTUS, which was finalized in May 2015, defines the scope of water protected under the Clean Water Act, which established “basic structure for regulating discharges of pollutants into the waters of the United States and regulating quality standards for surface waters.” Under CWA, federal and state permitting authorities were created in order to protect navigable waters from pollution. States were also encouraged to protect groundwater and non-navigable intrastate waters.
In January 2016, Congress passed a joint resolution that would have nullified WOTUS; however, the repeal was vetoed by former President Barack Obama.
The following November, Denham wrote a letter, which was backed by 28 additional members of Congress, that urged immediate action on Trump’s part upon taking office to repeal WOTUS. In the letter, Denham said WOTUS has “thrown the Central Valley’s ag community into a state of uncertainty as to how it will be regulated by the federal government.”
WOTUS expanded the definition of “navigable waters” in 2015 to small bodies of water such as farm ponds and drainage ditches, making them subject to regulation under the Clean Water Act, regardless of size or continuity of flow. Previously, only interstate waters were under the scope of federal jurisdiction.
“A few years ago, the EPA decided that navigable waters can mean nearly every puddle or every ditch on a farmer’s land or anyplace else that they decide. It was a massive power grab,” said Trump. “The EPA’s regulators were putting people out of jobs by the hundreds of thousands and regulations and permits started treating our wonderful small farmers and small businesses as if they were a major industrial polluter. They treated them horribly.”
In the WOTUS final rule, EPA said agencies clarified the scope of WOTUS in light of statute, science, Supreme Court decisions in U.S. v. Riverside Bayview Homes, Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and Rapanos v. United States, and the agencies’ experience and technical expertise. The final rule also took into consideration public comments.
Before signing the executive order on Tuesday, Trump called WOTUS “one of the worst examples of federal regulation.”
“It has truly run amuck and is one of the rules most strongly opposed by farmers, ranchers and agricultural workers all across our land — it’s prohibiting them from being allowed to do what they’re supposed to be doing,” said Trump. “It’s been a disaster.”