By Courtney Briggs
No one knows the benefits of clean water better than our nation’s farmers and ranchers. The food, fiber, and fuel we produce to support the needs of all Americans requires clean water. The health of our most valuable asset—our land, requires clean water. And the well-being of our families and communities also requires clean water. However, new regulatory proposals by the Biden administration will impose incredible burdens that will have unintended, yet lasting, consequences.
The Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers have proposed a new regulation that would, once again, change the definition of “waters of the United States.” This regulation would repeal the successful Navigable Waters Protection Rule and reinstate the troubling pre-2015 WOTUS rule. If finalized, this rule would erase all of the clarity and certainty that we have spent years working for, and give the agencies the ability to assert jurisdiction over dry land that is located many miles from a federally regulated water. The agencies would have the ability to aggregate waters together in order to capture entire watersheds as jurisdictional. This is very concerning because it runs counter to congressional intent under the Clean Water Act and ignores the limits imposed by Supreme Court precedents.
Many farmers and ranchers are wondering: “What does this regulation mean for me?” Quite simply, this rule is a game-changer for any landowner. It would greatly expand the universe of permits that farmers and ranchers would have to obtain. They would have to hire expensive environmental consultants and attorneys to navigate this overly complicated permitting process. This means more time, money and burdens for any business trying to comply. Farmers need to know exactly where the line of jurisdiction lies because the stakes are high. The civil and criminal penalties for noncompliance have the potential to put them out of business or put them in jail.
One of the greatest pitfalls of this regulation is that it will inevitably discourage our nation’s farmers and ranchers from implementing many environmentally beneficial projects on their land. Farmers often take on projects that provide erosion control, stormwater management, wildlife habitat, flood control, nutrient processing, and improve overall water quality in uplands and ephemeral features. We will likely see fewer of these projects because this proposed regulation would require landowners to obtain costly federal permits to make these environmental improvements.
Unfortunately, this rule would exacerbate the affordability crisis that we are experiencing in this country. It would make it more expensive for farmers, ranchers, and many other businesses to bring their products to market at an affordable price due to the complex web of regulations they would have to navigate. This could put affordable food, safe housing and reliable energy out of reach for some Americans.
EPA Administrator Regan pledged to consider the impact of a new water rule on farmers and ranchers but has fallen short. It’s time for a new rule that will establish a clear, reasonable delineation of where water ends and where land begins.
Farmers and ranchers want clean water, and they need clear rules. Visit fb.org/wotus now to ask EPA to withdraw this rule and return the clarity and common sense provided under the Navigable Waters Protection Rule.
Courtney Briggs is senior director of congressional relations for the American Farm Bureau Federation.