Groups comment on new WOTUS as EPA criticizes media coverage
Comments and reactions continued to come in late Thursday on the Trump administration’s release of a final rule to succeed the withdrawn Obama-era Waters of the United States rule, while the Environmental Protection Agency issued a statement titled “Correcting the Record: Media Erroneously Claims EPA and Army Jeopardize Wetlands & Stream Protection.”
House Agriculture Committee ranking member Michael Conaway, R-Texas, said, “This rule provides clarity and consistency for landowners affected by the scope of WOTUS jurisdiction.”
“Our nation’s navigable waters will remain well-protected, while farmers and ranchers will no longer be subjected to ambiguous guidelines and regulatory uncertainty, Conaway said.
“I applaud the Trump administration’s dedication to getting this rule right, and look forward to finally ending decades of federal overreach on WOTUS.”
National Corn Growers Association President Kevin Ross said, “Farmers are committed to protecting the environment and implementing on-farm soil health practices like planting cover crops, reducing tillage and more carefully managing crop residue.”
“This new rule gives the flexibility and clarity needed to implement stewardship practices without the threat of government action. The final WOTUS rule will protect our nation’s water and be implemented without confusion, welcome news for farmers.
“NCGA appreciates the work done by the Trump administration to provide this regulatory certainty.”
American Soybean Association President Bill Gordon said, “We are pleased that this rule replaces the 2015 rule, which was cumbersome and confusing, and that new regulation will better provide certainty and clear direction for our farmers.”
“We have long rallied for a replacement rule that protects our waterways while still offering a workable solution for farmers and that does not impose undue burden on agriculture. We express our thanks to the administration.”
But Gordon added, “ASA looks forward to reviewing the rule fully and learning more of the details.”
The Democrat-leaning National Farmer’s Union had a mixed reaction
NFU President Roger Johnson said NFU was pleased that the Trump administration has provided greater clarity about federal, state and tribal jurisdiction over the waters.
“Under the Trump administration’s rule, known as the Navigable Waters Protection Rule, federal protections will be limited to territorial seas and certain lakes and ponds, as well as major rivers, their primary tributaries, and wetlands along their banks,” Johnson noted. “All other waterways, including ephemeral streams, will fall under state jurisdiction.”
Then Johnson added, “But farmers don’t just need greater clarity — they also need access to clean, safe water for their families, their farms, and their communities. These needs are not mutually exclusive; when regulating natural resources, EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers must balance certainty for farmers, ranchers, and property owners with protections for our water supply.
“And while Farmers Union policy generally supports local decision-making, some states may be unprepared to regulate significantly more waterways. Moving forward, we will review the final rule closely to assess its full impacts on family farmers and ranchers and rural communities.”
Janette Brimmer, an attorney in the Northwest Regional Office for Earthjustice, joined other environmentalists in calling the rule “the dirty water rule.”
“President Trump’s administration wants to make our waters burn again,” Brimmer said.
“This all-out assault on basic safeguards will send our country back to the days when corporate polluters could dump whatever sludge or slime they wished into the streams and wetlands that often connect to the water we drink.
“We need to stop the administration and its corporate cronies before they cause another Cuyahoga River fire. Earthjustice will use every tool we have available to defend the Clean Water Act.”
Meanwhile, EPA reacted to some of the media coverage of the rule by complaining that some news reports had said the rule “erodes protection for ‘millions of miles of streams’ and wetlands.”
EPA added, “While this conveniently fits the narrative they are trying to push, it runs contrary to the facts.”
EPA noted that its officials and officials from the Army Corps of Engineers “have belabored in press releases and press calls: [T]here are no data or tools that can accurately map or quantify the scope of ‘waters of the United States.’
“This is the case today, and it was the case in 2014 when the Obama administration issued its blog titled ‘Mapping the Truth.’
“Therefore, any assertions attempting to quantify changes in the scope of waters based on these data sets are far too inaccurate and speculative to be meaningful.
“While this administration agrees that the current data and tools are insufficient, we are committed to supporting the development and improvement of the technology needed to map the nation’s aquatic resources.”
EPA continued, “As discussed on a press call today, a senior EPA official stressed this point again.”
“Here’s an example of why the maps that people seem to think show the clear status of jurisdictional waters in this country cannot be used.
“The National Hydrography Dataset, that the U.S. Geological Survey over at the U.S. Department of the Interior uses, it’s a nice tool. It has fairly high resolution and can show surface water features. The challenge is that for most parts of the country that map does not tell the difference between ephemeral and intermittent waters, other than in very limited portions of the country.
“Our rule depends on the difference between intermittent and ephemeral waters, but that tool does not see the difference and does not map the difference.
“Similarly, the National Wetlands Inventory, which is the other major tool that people have been using, does not map wetlands that match the ‘wetlands’ definition under any prior version of the [WOTUS] rule. And it also has what are called errors of omission and commission.
“In other words, it doesn’t map wetlands that are there, and it maps wetlands that are no longer there. Most importantly, it doesn’t map the jurisdictional waters. If you use those tools together, each one has errors, and so if you use them together to try to overlay the wetlands and the flowing waters, you effectively have what’s called propagation of error. It’s an inherently unreliable system, and so we do not use it.”
EPA cited some coverage it took issue with, saying “Let’s take a look at some of the offenders:”
▪ Politico: “The Trump administration Thursday signed its long-promised regulation to remove millions of miles of streams and roughly half the country’s wetlands from federal protection, the largest rollback of the Clean Water Act since the modern law was passed in 1972 … Half the country’s wetlands could lose protection … The new rule lifts federal protections for roughly half of the country’s wetlands, according to the agency’s own internal estimates.”
▪ E&E News: “A final rule unveiled by the Trump administration today eliminates Clean Water Act protections for the majority of the nation’s wetlands and more than 18% of streams.”
▪ Los Angeles Times: “Federal data suggest 81% of streams in the Southwest would lose long-held protections, including tributaries to major waterways that millions of people rely on for drinking water.”
▪ The Guardian: “About 60% of streams in the US are dry for part of the year but then connect to large rivers following rainfall. Wetlands not situated next to large rivers will also be excluded from protections. People living in the western U.S. are set to be particularly affected by the new rule, with ephemeral streams making up around 89% of Nevada’s stream miles and 94% of Arizona’s, for example.”
–The Hagstrom Report
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