Clean Water Act, WOTUS

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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers finalized a rule in June 2015 that significantly expanded the definition of “waters of the United States,” also known as “navigable waters,” under the Clean Water Act. EPA failed to listen to concerned farmers, ranchers and business owners around the country in crafting its new rule, vastly expanding EPA’s and the Corps’ regulatory authority beyond the limits approved by Congress and affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court. The rule was challenged in court by dozens of state, municipal, industry and environmental organizations. It was quickly blocked by the federal courts based on its legal flaws and the harm it threatened to cause, and was never implemented nationwide. Farm Bureau supports the recent EPA proposal to rescind this dangerous and unlawful rule.


The WOTUS rule grants the federal government regulatory control over virtually any waters – and many land areas that only temporarily hold water – assuming a scope of authority Congress never authorized. The rule effectively eliminates any constraints the term “navigable” previously imposed on the Corps’ and EPA’s CWA jurisdiction. Few, if any, waters would fall outside of federal control. The rule’s overbroad and vague terms would allow EPA and the Corps to regulate any or all waters found within a state, no matter how small or seemingly unconnected to true “navigable waters.” The rule is breathtaking in its unlawful attempt to supersede state and municipal authority.

The 2015 WOTUS rule provides none of the clarity and certainty it promised. Instead, it creates confusion and risk by giving the agencies almost unlimited authority to regulate, at their discretion, any low spot where rainwater collects, including common farm ditches, ephemeral drainages, agricultural ponds and isolated wetlands found in and near farms and ranches across the nation.

The rule defines terms such as “tributary” and “adjacent” in ways that make it impossible for farmers and ranchers to know whether the specific ditches, ephemeral drains or low areas on their land will be deemed “waters of the U.S.” But these definitions are broad enough to give regulators (and citizen plaintiffs) plenty of room to assert that such areas are subject to CWA regulation. The rule gives the agencies sweeping new authority to regulate land use, which they may exercise at will, or at the whim of a citizen plaintiff.

AFBF Policy

Farm Bureau has significant concerns with the 2015 rule. It expands federal jurisdiction far beyond what was authorized by Congress, resulting in the imposition of burdensome requirements and tremendous uncertainty for farmers and ranchers.

Farm Bureau supports the EPA and Corps of Engineers’ proposal to withdraw the 2015 rule. We also urge the agencies to develop a new rule that will provide a clear and reasonable definition of “waters of the U.S.” within the limits set by Congress.

WOTUS Timeline

April 21, 2014

WOTUS rule submitted for public comment

EPA and the Corps publish for public comment a proposed rule defining the scope of waters to be federally regulated under the CWA. According to EPA, this proposal would enhance protection for the nation's public health and aquatic resources, and increase CWA program predictability and consistency by increasing clarity as to the scope of “waters of the United States” protected under the act.

April 28, 2014

It’s time to Ditch the Rule!

AFBF launches the #DitchtheRule campaign to provide key information about the WOTUS rule and its impact to farmers around the country, and to encourage farmers to take action by submitting comments to EPA and Congress.

June 29, 2015

WOTUS rule published

EPA and Corps publish the final rule defining the scope of “waters of the U.S.,” which is immediately challenged in court.

August 27, 2015

North Dakota district court blocks WOTUS implementation

One day before the rule is scheduled to take effect, a federal district court in North Dakota grants a preliminary injunction blocking implementation of the rule in 13 states.

October 9, 2015

Sixth Circuit stays the 2015 WOTUS rule

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit issues a nationwide stay of the rule. In its decision, the court states that “the sheer breadth of the ripple effects caused by the Rule’s definitional changes counsels strongly in favor of maintaining the status quo for the time being.”

November 4, 2015

Senate disapproves WOTUS

The Senate passes a joint resolution of disapproval (S.J. Res. 22) stating that EPA and the Corps of Engineers violated the Congressional Review Act by not informing Congress of the impacts of WOTUS on small business. Later, the House also passes the resolution.

December 14, 2015

GAO finds EPA violated law on WOTUS

A ruling by the Government Accountability Office finds that EPA broke the law with its social media and grassroots lobbying campaign advocating for its own WOTUS rule. It is clear that the agency used illegal tactics to generate public support for the rule.

February 28, 2017

President Trump issues executive order to withdraw WOTUS rule

Recognizing the legal flaws and agency overreach embodied in the 2015 rule, President Trump directs EPA to reexamine the 2015 rule and consider whether to repeal or revise it.

June 27, 2017

EPA and Corps move to rescind WOTUS

The EPA and Department of the Army propose a rule to begin a two-step process to review and revise the definition of “waters of the U.S.” The agencies propose to first rescind the stayed 2015 rule to maintain the status quo while they work to develop a new lawful and rational definition of “waters of the U.S.” The agencies initiate a public comment period, which is later extended through September 27, 2017.

June 27, 2017

AFBF seeks comments on WOTUS rule withdrawal

The American Farm Bureau issues an Action Alert, urging farmers and ranchers to submit comments to EPA to support the repeal of the 2015 WOTUS rule.

Tell EPA to Rescind WOTUS

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