Clean water rules are going to be a battlefield

by | Apr 27, 2020 | 5 Ag Stories, News

The battle over who has control of our water and the reach of the Clean Water Act has been a focal point for a few years in agriculture. The Obama Administration?s Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule was labeled as a governmental overreach by many in agriculture. Some states argued that the Federal guidelines would be a step backward from what their states already did. The Trump administration scrapped WOTUS and replaced it with the Navigable Waters Rule (NWR). The rule officially hit the Federal Register last week. That should be the end of it, right? Well, we may only be just beginning.

Agriculture groups around the nation celebrated the implementation of the NWR rule last week. The National Cattlemen?s Beef Association (NCBA) was among them. Scott Yager is the NCBA Chief Environmental Counsel. He said it was time to plant the victory flag for agriculture.

Yager said the worst that could happen was that there would be some legal battles that could cause a preliminary injunction, but that the WOTUS rule would be gone for good. Farmers did not need to worry about every mud puddle on their yards being regulated.

However, at the end of the week, the Supreme Court decided a case in Hawaii that could have a lasting impact on the Trump Administration?s attempt to limit the power of the Clean Water Act. In a 6-3 decision, the high court ruled that a wastewater treatment plant on Maui could not discharge waste into the groundwater instead of the ocean.

Environmentalists are rallying around this decision and are planning to further challenge the Trump EPA over indirect discharges. This could mean the fight is coming to farm country. This could be the ammo they need to halt the new NWR in its infancy. The American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) joined the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in support of the water plant in Hawaii. They argue that only direct discharges into navigable waters are covered by the rules. AFBF?s Don Parrish explains.

The argument was that obtaining a permit before knowing if there was a need for one was too costly and unworkable. Parrish says the new NWR rule is much clearer on the guidelines for farms, and that Maui fulfilled its obligations under the Clean Water Act.

This ruling by the Supreme Court could be enough ammo for environmentalists to threaten the NWR. The three dissenters on the court?s ruling said the majority decision has no basis in the Clean Water Act and gives no clear guidance for future challenges in lower courts. EPA has yet to announce how it will implement the court?s decision.