Government

Iowa leaders file support of changes to Waters of the United States rule

Fifteen AGs slam move to limit federal authority of Clean Water Act

FILE PHOTO: A wetland in the waterfowl refuge of the Big Marsh Wildlife Management Area is shown outside of Parkersburg on Friday, Oct. 28, 2016. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
FILE PHOTO: A wetland in the waterfowl refuge of the Big Marsh Wildlife Management Area is shown outside of Parkersburg on Friday, Oct. 28, 2016. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

While attorneys general from 14 states and the District of Columbia on Tuesday vehemently opposed the Trump administration’s proposal to roll back a regulation known as Waters of the United States, Iowa leaders voiced their support for the changes.

The limit on the federal government’s authority to regulate the pollution of wetlands and tributaries that run into the nation’s largest rivers would be a major win for builders, farmers, coal miners and frackers.

“The new WOTUS rule provides much needed stability for our farmers whose livelihoods depend upon their ability to work the land,” Gov. Kim Reynolds said in a statement released by her office Tuesday. “It’s another win in the battle against the Obama administration’s massive federal overreach in 2015. ... We must continue to be vigilant as future generations of farmers are counting on us to succeed.”

In comments filed Tuesday before the end of the public comment period, the governor, Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig, acting Director of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources Bruce Trautman, and Director of the Iowa Department of Transportation Mark Lowe filed a letter in support of the EPA’s proposed changes to the definition of the Waters of the United States and also provided suggestions for more clarification. Attorney General Tom Miller did not sign the letter.

“Farmers, businesses and communities need to clearly understand what bodies of water are and are not covered under the WOTUS rule,” Naig said in a statement. “We appreciate the EPA’s willingness to listen to farmers, address their concerns about the previous definition, and give the public the opportunity to weigh in on the proposed changes.”

Opponents of the rollback say it would end federal oversight of 15 percent of streams and more than half the nation’s wetlands.

The attorneys general opposed to the changes said the Trump administration’s proposal in December for a more limited rule violates the Administrative Procedure Act and runs contrary to the Clean Water Act’s objective of restoring the nation’s waterways.

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The scaling back of the regulation was one of President Donald Trump’s top priorities when he took office, and he issued an executive order in February 2017 directing the Environmental Protection Agency to carry out “the elimination of this very destructive and horrible rule.”

But the Supreme Court has already ruled on this issue, and now-retired Justice Anthony Kennedy said that the standard should be that a regulated body of water must have a “significant nexus” with other, larger waterways.

“The Trump administration continues to flout the rule of law with its decision to abandon Justice Kennedy’s ‘significant nexus’ standard, even though this standard has been upheld by the federal courts countless times already,” David Hayes, executive director of the State Energy and Environmental Impact Center, said in a statement.

Given the interconnected nature of national water systems, state attorneys general worry not only about pollution their own states generate but also pollution originating from outside of their jurisdiction, potentially threatening their drinking water.

The comments from the attorneys general Tuesday were filed by a coalition including New York, California, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and the District of Columbia.

The Obama administration, under the Waters of the United States rule issued in 2015, asserted federal oversight of a variety of ditches, stormwater controls, lakes, streams and wetlands that feed into larger waterways that are clearly protected under the Clean Water Act of 1972. Many experts believed that the 1972 law already gave the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers control over smaller U.S. waterways and tributaries.

The Washington Post contributed to this story.

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