116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Republican politicians are ginning up a false narrative about the Biden Administration’s effort to reinstitute the Obama administration’s Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule that was rescinded and replaced by the Trump administration. They are falsely claiming that the WOTUS rule will put farmers out of business and that every little puddle or tire rut after a rain will be regulated by the federal government. The Republicans are relying on lies and fake outrage.
In order to correct this false narrative, let’s first look at the history of the rule. The rule was an effort to comply with a U.S. Supreme Court decision written by former Justice Anthony Kennedy. So it is hardly a liberal socialist idea. Justice Kennedy said that any water that had a “significant nexus” to a navigable water is covered by the Clean Water Act and therefore subject to protection by the federal government. In order to put the significant nexus requirement into scientific terms, EPA and the Corps of Engineers convened a committee of scientists, at least two of whom were from Iowa State University, to accomplish that task. That committee issued a 300-page report that formed the basis of the WOTUS rule. Then the agencies undertook an extensive and lengthy process before adopting the rule, gathering information from stakeholders from every perspective. Over 1 million comments were received and there were over 400 meetings with diverse stakeholders. So the WOTUS rule was not just an arbitrary political decision. It was a legally and scientifically-based rule to protect water quality.
To further counter the effort to scare the agricultural community, it is important to know that the WOTUS rule exempted most agricultural practices. Agricultural discharges were always exempt, even before the WOTUS rule. No permit was needed under the rule to farm and fill a wetland on prior converted cropland. The rule also addressed concerns by clearly stating ditches and puddles were exempt. So the Republicans’ scare tactics are baseless. Any person who claims the WOTUS rule regulates puddles, etc., clearly has not read the rule or is intentionally lying, hoping that you don’t know the truth.
Because some states, including Iowa, sued to overturn the WOTUS rule and obtained a stop on its implementation in those states, there are data to show that there was no more impact on farming in the states applying the WOTUS rule than in states where it was not being applied. In fact, most Clean Water Act permits, even before the adoption of the WOTUS rule were given to developers and extractive industries such as oil, gas and mining companies. I wonder how much campaign money those interests are giving to the Republican politicians trying to scare farmers.
Everyone knows, even if some won’t admit, that Iowa has a serious water quality problem. It is important to make a valid, science-based effort to address that problem. That it what the WOTUS rule did and will do again. Republican politicians should be supporting that effort, instead of demagoguing the issue.
Wally Taylor is the conservation chair and legal chair for the Iowa Chapter of the Sierra Club.