Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt has lent his face to a campaign demanding the repeal the Obama administration’s much maligned Waters of the United States rule. The National Cattlemen's Beef Association has released a video in which Pruitt urges farmers and ranchers to submit official comments on the repeal of the WOTUS rule before the EPA's deadline of Aug. 28, 2017.
"When comments are made a part of a record… we have an obligation to review them," Pruitt says in the video. "It helps inform our decision-making process; it helps us make better decisions. We want farmers and ranchers across this country to provide comments."
The video was filmed during a visit that Pruitt and his senior staff made to the Frasier Ranch, located just outside Last Chance, Colorado. During the visit, part of the Administrator's nationwide "State Action Tour," Pruitt met with and solicited input from several dozen local ranchers about how to proceed after the Obama-era WOTUS is repealed.
"We're trying to fix the challenges from the 2015 rule, where the Obama Administration re-imagined their authority under the Clean Water Act and defined a Water of the United States as being a puddle, a dry creek bed, and ephemeral drainage ditches across this country, which created great uncertainty... and we are fixing that, and then we're hearing from stakeholders about how to get it right as we go forward," Pruitt said.
In February, President Trump issued an Executive Order demanding a review of the WOTUS rule. It ordered that the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers publish for notice and comment a proposed rule rescinding or revising the rule. The agencies were instructed to consult with the U.S. Attorney General to facilitate decisions on whether to pursue or abandon any defense or prosecution before federal courts related to the rule.
Subsequently, the Pruitt-led EPA issued a “Notice of Intention to Review and Rescind or Revise the Clean Water Rule” after the Executive Order was issued.
“Through new rulemaking, the EPA and the Army seek to provide greater clarity and regulatory certainty concerning the definition of "waters of the United States,” Pruitt wrote.
In June, the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers proposed a rule to rescind the rules. And engage in “a substantive re-evaluation of the definition of Waters of the United States." The proposed rule would be implemented in accordance with Supreme Court decisions, agency guidance, and longstanding practice.
"We are taking significant action to return power to the states and provide regulatory certainty to our nation's farmers and businesses," Pruitt said. "This is the first step in the two-step process to redefine 'waters of the U.S.' and we are committed to moving through this re-evaluation to quickly provide regulatory certainty, in a way that is thoughtful, transparent and collaborative with other agencies and the public.”
A comment period for the rule proposal is underway through Aug. 28.
The existing rule regulates the discharge of pollutants into “navigable waters.” Specifically, it:
Defines and protects tributaries that impact the health of downstream waters;
Protects navigable waterways and their tributaries by determining that a tributary must show physical features of flowing water (a bed, bank, and ordinary high water mark) to warrant protection;
Sets boundaries on covering nearby waters for the first time that are physical and measurable; and
Limits protection to ditches that are constructed out of streams or function like streams and can carry pollution downstream.
“The Clean Water Rule ensures that waters protected under the Clean Water Act are more precisely defined, more predictably determined, and easier for businesses and industry to understand,” the EPA said at the time the rule was enacted.
The rule does not, according to a disputed Obama administration fact sheet: protect any types of waters that have not historically been covered by the Clean Water Act; add any new requirements for agriculture; interfere with or change private property rights; regulate most ditches; change policy on irrigation or water transfers; address land use; Include groundwater, shallow subsurface flow and tile drains.