WOTUS action a step in right direction

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

On the 150th anniversary of a state named after a Native American term for "flat water," Nebraska leaders are celebrating President Trump's move to direct the Environmental Protection Agency to reconsider the Obama Administration's controversial "Waters of the United States" rule.

Water is Nebraska's most valuable natural resource, and McCook residents are reminded of the need to protect it every time they pay their city water bill.

That bill reflects the cost of a $14 million water treatment plant and the million dollars a year it takes to remove pollution like nitrates, arsenic and uranium from well water before sending it to our taps.

But Obama's WOTUS rule had the potential to make a federal case out of every construction or land improvement plan for a good chunk of the state.

That's because it exploited ambiguity in previous court rulings to extend EPA authority, for instance, for land within 1,500 feet of the borders of a 100-year flood plain.

That covers some of the most desirable land in the state. Plan to level land to install a center-pivot irrigation system or a golf course, and you might run afoul of federal rules.

The documents Trump signed Tuesday direct the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to review the Obama administration's WOTUS rule.

The Clean Water Act of 1972 originally protected "navigable" waters from pollution, but over the years, despite the best efforts of Congress and administrations, the Army Corps of Engineers and courts interpreted the act different in different regions of the country.

The Obama administration tried to settle the question once for all in 2015, but farmers, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, real estate developers, golf course owners and political leaders felt it went too far.

"WOTUS is a dangerous overreach, giving the EPA the power to dictate local land use decisions and farming practices nationwide," said U.S. Rep. Adrian Smith.

"Since the rule's introduction, Nebraskans have expressed deep concerns about federal agencies having control over the water puddles and irrigation ditches on their properties. Local officials have told me about infrastructure projects, such as cleaning and widening a drainage ditch, which have been needlessly delayed due to WOTUS red tape.

"The Obama administration refused to listen to the concerns of agriculture producers. I'm glad President Trump is listening. His order to reset WOTUS is a victory not only for farmers and ranchers but for all Americans eager for regulatory relief."

Smith is the founder and co-chairman of the Modern Agriculture Caucus.

Gov. Pete Ricketts and U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer had similar praise.

President Trump sounded a conciliatory tone in Tuesday night's address to a joint session of Congress and has expressed a desire to reach middle ground on the most controversial of subjects, such as repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act.

In that climate, there's a better chance the EPA, congressional leaders and regulators will reach a compromise that's acceptable to both developers and environmental interests.

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