Though national news this week has been dominated by the presidential impeachment, agricultural producers and property owners across the country were given another major victory. Thursday, the Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corp of Engineers announced a final rule to replace the 2015 Waters of the United States, or WOTUS, rule.
The new rule, called the Navigable Waters Protection Rule, will govern what waters fall under the 1972 Clean Water Act. The Clean Water Act established federal protections for navigable waterways, but what exactly fell under the term navigable waterway was somewhat ambiguous. This led to court challenges and an eventual U.S. Supreme Court decision. Following the court decision, the Obama administration attempted to better define the scope with the 2015 WOTUS rule, but what they implemented was exceptionally broad. So much so that ditches and puddles could have easily fallen under government oversight. It amounted to the biggest federal land grab in U.S. history.
The 2015 rule was mired in legal challenges since its inception. Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association was heavily involved in the policy and legal discussions that ensued. Even after President Trump’s election and executive order to scrap the WOTUS rule, the issue continued. Finally, in 2019, WOTUS was fully repealed. However, it was still necessary to create a replacement to define navigable waterways.
That replacement was finalized Thursday. While still not perfect, the new rule is probably as good as we’re going to get. It is significantly narrower in scope and much easier to interpret that what came before, thanks to the leadership of President Trump, EPA Administrator Wheeler, and Assistant Secretary of the Army, R.D. James.
While a definite victory, unfortunately, the saga is still not over. The new rule will likely face legal challenges from environmental groups who think it is too narrow in scope to adequately protect our water resources.
Rest assured, the association will continue to monitor and engage on this issue throughout the implementation of the new rule and any legal challenges that result.
Closer to home, Texas legislative initiatives are beginning to pick up ahead of the 2021 Texas Legislative Session. When they’re not campaigning, members of the House and Senate will spend much of their time this year on interim studies. These are issues selected by the Lt. Governor and Speaker of the House to investigate before the next session. Committees in both chambers will hold meetings and invite testimony to assess if and how to address the issues in the upcoming legislative session.
This week two Senate committees held a joint meeting on groundwater, which we watched closely. Eminent domain will also be on the agenda moving forward as will other issues relevant to cattle producers.
Jeremy Fuchs is Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association’s director of public affairs.