In 2020, the dust finally settled on the definition of “Waters of the United States,” when the new Navigational Waters Protection Rule eliminated ambiguity and drew pragmatic, administrable lines for landowners. With the recent announcements from the current administration, we find ourselves, yet again, redebating how to achieve clean, high-quality water, continuing the swinging pendulum of public policy that has plagued agriculture for decades.
As an organization of state officials who regulate and advocate for a secure and sustainable food supply on behalf of all Americans, we will work closely with the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers (the Corps) throughout this process to ensure the rule remains reasonable, achievable, straightforward, and sustainable for the regulated community. In the original 1948 statute, the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, federal agencies in cooperation with state and local entities were authorized to prepare comprehensive programs for eliminating or reducing the pollution of interstate waters and tributaries and improving the sanitary condition of surface and underground waters. This statute, along with subsequent amendments recognized the role of states in establishing limits on federal jurisdiction. Where federal regulators landed with the Navigational Waters Protection Rule last year, the final rule respected these limitations on federal jurisdiction, as well as the capabilities and responsibilities of states to regulate and promote water quality.
Recently, EPA published a list of 333 projects claiming them as proof of environmental harm taking place and seemingly ignoring the role and responsibilities of state’s review and approval of projects that may impact non-jurisdictional waters. Rather than transparently and thoroughly seeking reports on the programs from states regarding the listed projects, EPA and the Corps appear to suggest that harm is taking place simply because the federal government does not have jurisdiction over them. To EPA and the Corps’ surprise, the public and stakeholders reported what NASDA members could have shared from the start – local environmental regulatory programs implemented and enforced by states are effective and beneficial.
We’re asking the administration, in order to guarantee the best water for Americans, let’s put aside the politics, and work with each other, not around each other.
Cooperative federalism starts with a foundation of mutual respect for the capabilities and responsibilities of state and federal governing bodies. It then builds on the strengths of both entities, and as trusted, non-partisan individuals with experience in agriculture and a deep understanding of environmental science, NASDA members serve as ideal partners for crafting policy for agriculture.
Should EPA and the Corps still seek to evaluate states’ effectiveness of regulating non-jurisdictional water as justification for repealing then replacing the Navigational Waters Protection Rule, then it is the administration’s responsibility to fully assess the risks and benefits of the rule before initiating a new rulemaking process. This can’t be done fairly and transparently without consulting state departments of agriculture.
There is no denying that clean water is essential. NASDA encourages the administration to prioritize clear, administrable definitions and respect state authority while furthering the mission of protecting clean water. We also encourage EPA and the Corps in coordination with USDA and state departments of agriculture to examine and minimize the impact new definitions could have on voluntary conservation efforts and state permitting programs. In addition, the potential impacts to the community of farmers and ranchers who feed us and provide the raw materials necessary for clothing, housing and so much more should especially be considered. A thriving agriculture industry is important for people everywhere, helping to provide life’s necessities at affordable prices and in a healthy, sustainable manner. It’s time to calm the waves and allow a clear path forward for farmers and ranchers looking to care for their land.