EPA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Finalize First Step to Repeal “Waters of the United States” Ruling

On Thursday, September 12, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) announced the finalization of step one in repealing the 2015 “Waters of the United States” (WOTUS) rule under the Clean Water Act (CWA). The agencies are now recodifying the longstanding and familiar regulatory text that existed prior to the 2015 Rule—ending a regulatory patchwork that required implementing two competing CWA regulations, which has created regulatory uncertainty across the United States for forest landowners and farmers alike. 

The 2015 rule attempted to clarify the distinction between state and federal waterways. However, opponents argued that the rule failed to achieve its stated goal of providing regulatory certainty, and suffered from numerous flaws, leading 31 states, and several forestry and agricultural organizations to challenge it in court. As a result, on December 11, 2018, EPA and USACE proposed a new rule which would put in place a WOTUS definition that draws clearer jurisdictional lines while preserving states’ authority over local land and water use. (see the American Farm Bureau’s background and timeline of the WOTUS rule

Forestry and agriculture leaders applauded the agencies’ action as it will help to provide more regulatory certainty for forest landowners, forest-based businesses and farmers. 

“Paper and wood products manufacturers welcome EPA’s move to provide certainty around the implementation of Clean Water Act regulations across the United States,” said Donna Harman, President & CEO of the American Forest & Paper Association. “Stakeholders, including forest products manufacturers and state and local governments, deserve clarity as they work to ensure our nation’s waters are clean. As one of the largest manufacturing sectors in the nation with a successful record of implementing sustainable manufacturing principles, we consider EPA’s action a step in the right direction for the environment, economic growth and job creation.” 

“Repealing the WOTUS rule is a major win for American agriculture,” said Sonny Perdue, Secretary of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). “The extreme overreach from the past Administration had government taking the productivity of the land people had worked for years. Farmers and ranchers are exceptional stewards of the land, taking great care to preserve it for generations to come. President Trump is making good on his promise to reduce burdensome regulations to free our producers to do what they do best – feed, fuel, and clothe this nation and the world.”

“No regulation is perfect, and no rule can accommodate every concern, but the 2015 rule was especially egregious,” said Zippy Duvall, President of the American Farm Bureau Federation. “We are relieved to put it behind us. We are now working to ensure a fair and reasonable substitute that protects our water and our ability to work and care for the land. Farm Bureau’s multi-year effort to raise awareness of overreaching provisions was powered by thousands of our members, who joined with an array of allies to achieve this victory for clear rules to ensure clean water.”

To learn more about the EPA and USACE’s process on the WOTUS rule, visit https://www.epa.gov/wotus-rule

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