By Eric Bohl
Missouri’s farmers and ranchers may soon have clear rules about how to protect our waterways. On December 11, President Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed a new Clean Water Rule that would fix many of the problems created by the Obama administration’s 2015 “WOTUS Rule” power grab.
Missouri farmers had many complaints with President Obama’s 2015 Waters of the United States rule. One of the strongest was that the rule was so broad and vague that almost any land could fall under it. A 2015 Missouri Farm Bureau analysis found that over 99 percent of Missouri lands could fall under the Obama rule’s jurisdiction. With such ambiguous guidelines, landowners could do everything possible to follow the law but still not know if they were committing a violation.
The EPA describes the new rule as “clear and easy to understand.” They claim it will be easier for a property owner to “understand whether a project on his or her property will require a federal permit or not, without spending tens of thousands of dollars on engineering and legal professionals.” This is welcome news to farmers. Times are tight in agriculture, and the threat of new fines or litigation looming over normal activities is the last thing they need right now.
The EPA says the new rule respects the role of states in protecting the nation’s water resources. Missouri has a strong and active Department of Natural Resources (DNR) that enforces Missouri water laws. This local control provides expert oversight to Missouri’s water resources. We do not need the federal government looking over DNR’s shoulder on every action it takes.
The new rule does limit the extent of federal jurisdiction to the actual scope of the law. For example, ground features like ditches and ephemeral streams – streams that only flow when it rains – are far outside the scope of the Clean Water Act. The EPA has no legal authority to regulate them. But the Obama-era rule claimed jurisdiction over many of them anyway.
Regulations can’t write new law; they must be within the constraints of their authorizing statute. The new proposed rule would only regulate waters that are clearly intended to be covered by the statute, and it would do so with a much more common-sense approach.
Once the Clean Water Rule is published in the Federal Register, citizens will have 60 days to submit comments. This new proposal is a very positive step for rural America. Missouri’s farm and ranch families will be supporting it, because to protect our resources and keep our water clean, we need clear, common-sense rules.
Eric Bohl is the Director of Public Affairs for Missouri Farm Bureau, the state’s largest farm organization.