Proposed WOTUS rollback welcome change for Nebraska

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Critics are decrying the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposal to change the definition of the “Waters of the United States” as leaving “vast amounts of wetlands and thousands of miles of U.S. waterways” without federal protection.

What’s not often mentioned is that the definition has only been in effect for three years and if tightly enforced, could cripple states like Nebraska, where a majority of the population lives in areas where many activities could require permission from Washington.

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.

Tuesday, the EPA announced a proposal which would define the “waters of the United States” to major waterways, their tributaries, adjacent wetlands and a few other categories.

That still included much of the Cornhusker state.

EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler said the change is designed to “provide states and landowners the certainty they need to manage their natural resources and grow local economies.”

He said it would allow farmers to avoid expensive and time-consuming permits that amounted to an Obama-era “power grab.”

“Thank you President Trump and Acting Administrator Wheeler for your continued commitment to repealing President Obama’s onerous WOTUS rule,” said Gov. Pete Ricketts. “This new proposal returns more power to the states and private landowners where it belongs. From family farms to commercial developers, this certainty is critical for the job creators who provide opportunities and grow Nebraska.”

Nebraska Department of Agriculture Director Steve Wellman said “the new proposed rule provides landowners with long-term certainty, clarity, and straightforward guidance with consistency across all states.”

“As the original conservationists, our farmers and ranchers want to ensure we have high water quality without overbearing government oversight. We expect the proposed new WOTUS rule to restore the rule of law and draw a clear line between state and federal jurisdiction."

“The 2015 WOTUS rule had far-reaching consequences that would have hurt every single Nebraskan,” said Sen. Deb Fischer. “The proposed rule announced today provides clarity and will ensure the federal government stays in its jurisdictional lane.”

"This is good news,” said Sen. Ben Sasse. The Obama-era WOTUS rule was textbook Washington hogwash: unelected federal bureaucrats were trying to unconstitutionally regulate puddles here in Nebraska. I'm grateful for today's new approach -- Nebraska producers need predictability and common sense. Here’s the truth Nebraskans have known all along: nobody cares more about our land and water resources than we do -- our farmers and ranchers don't talk about conservation, they do it."

Water has always been a major issue for McCook and Southwest Nebraska, from the Republican River flood of 1935, to the area Bureau of Reclamation projects that followed, to nitrate and solvent contamination of city water sources, construction of a state-of-the-art water treatment plant and agricultural restrictions resulting from the Republican River Compact dispute with Kansas and Colorado.

We’ve navigated many difficult waters successfully so far and appreciate any effort that clears dangerous shoals and widens dire straits.

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