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New federal action will help farmers

Replacement of Waters of the US rule ends years of uncertainty

The Waters of the United States regulation, usually referred to as WOTUS, issued by the Obama administration in 2015 created a worrisome bureaucratic situation for the nation’s farmers. Its goal was to protect navigable waterways. Federal regulation of water that entered those water bodies was part of the game plan. Unfortunately, however, the rule made highly ambiguous just what water and drainage systems were subject to federal scrutiny. That meant the nation’s farmers faced the possibility that even ponds and rainwater on their properties might be subject to federal regulation. The door was opened for the likelihood that farmers would face expensive and burdensome compliance requirements when undertaking even routine land use changes. That situation produced a nationwide negative response to WOTUS from the agricultural world.

President Donald Trump pledged to replace the Obama administration rule with a new regulation that would define more clearly what waters are subject to federal oversight. He promised that unreasonable bureaucratic interference in the operation of farms would not happen.

On Jan. 23, the Trump Administration delivered on those assurances. The Environmental Protection Agency announced the issuance of the Navigable Waters Protection Rule. It includes definitions of waters to be regulated that should eliminate the confusion and alarm the Obama era rule generated. U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley has pointed out that under some interpretations of the original regulation 97 percent of Iowa could have been defined as a “waterway.” The burden that would have imposed on farmers would have been extreme. Now, that problem appears to have been eliminated.

“President Trump is restoring the rule of law and empowering Americans by removing undue burdens and strangling regulations from the backs of our productive farmers, ranchers and rural land-owners,” U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said in a statement welcoming the new regulation. “The days are gone when the federal government can claim a small farm pond on private land as navigable waters.”

Grassley and U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst have waged a tireless campaign to get the Obama regulation undone. The two Iowa Republicans both praised the action taken by the Trump administration.

Gov. Kim Reynolds also expressed her approval.

“Iowa farmers, families and property owners will benefit substantially from the redefined ‘Waters of the United States’ … rule,” she said. “This new rule provides clarity, predictability and consistency while also balancing environmental protections with the rights and interests of states like ours.”

The Messenger commends this positive action by the EPA. The new rule eliminates a potentially nightmarish bureaucratic situation for Iowa’s farmers. It also provides clear protection for each state’s role in regulating waterways and wetlands within its boundaries. The new regulation safeguards the environment while being appropriately respectful of the rights of states, local communities and property owners. It is a very positive move in the right direction.