Return to WOTUS Will Hurt Central Washington Farmers

June 22, 2021
Weekly Column and Op-Ed

President Biden is stretching the limits of his executive authority – and this time, the livelihoods of farmers and rural communities across the nation are at stake.

As a lifelong farmer, representative of this area, and Chairman of the Congressional Western Caucus, I understand firsthand the vested interest we all have in how the federal government’s regulations impact water, agriculture, and natural resources across the country – especially when these regulations burden our rural communities.

Under Obama, WOTUS was a thinly-veiled land grab which sought to give unprecedented power to unelected bureaucrats in Washington, D.C. – who have never even heard of Yakima. Now, President Biden is pushing to return to the Obama-era Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule and revoke the Navigable Waters Protection Rule (NWPR), a revised regulation by the Trump Administration that ensured critical protections for navigable bodies of water throughout our country.

Under WOTUS, federal agencies would have had an almost unlimited authority to regulate bodies of water due to the addition of “significant nexus” to the definition. These words added hundreds of thousands of stream miles and acres of land to federal jurisdiction, giving regulators – not the farmers or ranchers familiar with the land – the ability to claim nearly any pond, puddle, ditch, stream, creek, or other body of water that were in some way connected to a stream, river, or lake and, therefore, fall under the jurisdiction of the federal government.

No matter how small or seemingly unconnected they may be to true "navigable waters," WOTUS would have enabled the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to fine farmers and ranchers thousands of dollars if they simply rotated crops. The rules also failed to provide a means of appealing a determination to the federal government.

The Trump Administration finalized NWPR to give farmers and ranchers clear, consistent guidelines and a clear distinction between federal waters and waters subject to the sole control of the states, their governmental subdivisions, and tribes. In Central Washington and throughout rural America, we know that our producers are dedicated to clean water because their livelihoods depend on it, and locally-led conservation efforts work best. The rule gained widespread support because it recognizes the contributions of rural communities and provides incentives for these successful local efforts to continue.

The Biden Administration’s intent to revoke and rewrite the NWPR is alarming, misguided and must not move forward. WOTUS was challenged in court by dozens of state, municipal, stakeholder and environmental organizations, and 33 Democrat and Republican governors and state environmental heads called for a revised rule. In fact, the courts ruled that the 2015 definition was more expansive than the statute and the Constitution allow. WOTUS was a complete failure and continuing to pursue a revolving-door regulatory approach has no benefits – environmental or otherwise.

Earlier this year, I joined Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R-IA) to introduce legislation that reaffirms our commitment to clean water and urges the Biden Administration to maintain the NWPR. Clean and reliable water is fundamental to our Western communities and maintaining the NWPR will ensure continued access for our farmers and ranchers across the country.

Farmers and ranchers are the original conservationists, leading the way in protecting our natural resources. Their livelihoods depend upon a healthy environment and clean water, and they will work to ensure it for all Americans, if given the chance.

The Biden Administration must listen to the best available science and the voices of impacted rural communities before engaging in further politically-motivated efforts to roll back the NWPR. Doing so is in the best interest of rural America and, most importantly, clean water.