Leaders welcome proposed changes to WOTUS rule

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Nebraska political, agricultural and business leaders are applauding a proposal to reverse an Obama-era environmental rule that was excessively restrictive everywhere in the U.S. but especially in the “flatwater state.”

After the Obama administration’s EPA redefined the Waters of the United States rule, landowners, developers and municipalities were nearly paralyzed by the prospect of having to navigate federal red tape under threat of substantial fines.

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 disputes with the 2015 rule, which greatly expanded WOTUS and brought many isolated bodies of water under the jurisdiction of the EPA and U.S. Corps of Engineers, affecting some of the most desirable lands in Nebraska.

In June of that year, attorneys general from Nebraska and 12 other states filed a lawsuit against the EPA and Corps to restore regulation of land and water resources to the states.

As we pointed out in March when the Trump administration first proposed changes, Nebraska and McCook residents are painfully aware of the need to protect our most valuable resource.

McCook residents pay a high price for clean water, thanks to the need to build and operate a state-of-the-art water treatment plant that removes nitrates and other impurities from groundwater before piping it to our homes.

That water treatment plant was the result of a long process begun in the 1980s, when the city, in a search for low-nitrate water, discovered old industrial pollution from an electronics factory near McCook Ben Nelson Regional Airport.

That cleanup, financed by owners of the plant, took years and forced the city to look elsewhere. That search first caused the City Council to purchase the old McCook Army Air Base, which was sold at a loss after questions were raised about water quality there; then to a plan that ran into opposition from Frontier County landowners concerned about groundwater being piped to McCook.

The final solution, so far, turned out to be our current water treatment plant.

Yes, McCook residents appreciate the importance of clean groundwater, and we’re willing to pay the cost without crippling economic expansion.

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