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As the respective chairmen of the Senate and Congressional Western Caucuses, a group of members who work to lift the voice of the rural West in Congress, we have a vested interest in how the federal government’s regulations impact water, agriculture and natural resources across the country – especially when these regulations burden the rural communities we represent.
The “Waters of the United States” (WOTUS) rule by then-President Obama and Vice President Biden was a drastic land and water grab that sought to give unprecedented power to unelected bureaucrats in Washington, D.C., at the expense of farmers, ranchers, small business owners and the American people.
This isn’t just partisan rhetoric – the courts ruled that the 2015 definition was more expansive than the statute and the Constitution allow.
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WOTUS provided none of the clarity and certainty it promised. Instead, it created confusion and put landowners at risk by giving federal agencies almost unlimited authority to regulate – at their discretion – any low spot where rainwater collects. This included common farm ditches, streams, small ponds, creeks and isolated wetlands found on and near farms and ranches across the nation – no matter how small or seemingly unconnected they may be to true “navigable waters.”
Under this Obama/Biden-era rule, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) could fine farmers and ranchers thousands of dollars if they changed from one crop to another. Federal bureaucrats would have the power to decide if a farmer could plow his or her own field, and their control of state land acreage could have increased by as much as 400%.
For example, 97% of the land in Iowa would be regulated by the federal government under the Obama-Biden WOTUS rule, an unfathomable intrusion by D.C. bureaucrats into the lives and livelihoods of rural Iowans.
WOTUS not only represented one of the most egregious examples of federal overreach we’ve seen in our time serving in Washington, D.C., but it also was an abysmal failure. The rule 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.
Clean water and economic prosperity are not mutually exclusive.
The Western Caucus led the charge against this misguided regulation, and we were glad when the Trump administration finalized the Navigable Waters Protection Rule (NWPR) to provide certainty and predictability to families, producers and small business owners across the United States once and for all.
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Clean water and economic prosperity are not mutually exclusive. Westerners want both, and that’s made possible by empowering communities and strengthening locally led conservation efforts – because the best stewards of our lands and waters are those that live closest, not out-of-state regulators.
Unfortunately, the Biden administration has already signaled intent to revoke and rewrite the NWPR once again. This is alarming, misguided and must not move forward. Let us be clear, the uncertainty that comes with a revolving-door regulatory approach has no benefits – environmental or otherwise.
In light of this action by the Biden administration, Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, and Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, R-Iowa, introduced legislation with the support of the Western Caucus and cosponsored by more than two dozen senators and 115 representatives, reaffirming our commitment to clean water and urging that the NWPR must be maintained. Clean and reliable water is fundamental to our Western communities, and we are grateful for Sen. Ernst and Rep. Miller-Meeks’ leadership on this high-priority issue.
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Farmers and ranchers in Iowa, Montana, Washington and across the country are the original conservationists and are on the front lines of protecting our natural resources. Their livelihoods depend upon a healthy environment and clean water, and they deserve leadership that ensures it is provided safely, efficiently and fairly for all Americans.
The Western Caucus urges the Biden administration to hold true to their commitment to follow the best available science and listen to rural voices before engaging in further politically motivated efforts to roll-back the NWPR. Doing so is in the best interest of Western, rural communities, and most importantly – clean water and healthy ecosystems.
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Dan Newhouse, a Republican, represents Washington’s 4th Congressional District and is chairman of the Congressional Western Caucus.
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