EPA, Corps release proposed new Clean Water Rule

IFB President Richard Guebert Jr. attends proposed rule announcement with other state Farm Bureau presidents.

Andrew Wheeler, acting administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and R.D. James, Assistant Secretary for the Civil Works, sign the proposed Clean Water Rule during a ceremony attended by state Farm Bureau presidents across the country. (Photo by Ryan Whitehouse, IFB associate director of national legislation and policy development)

By Deana Stroisch

Surrounded by Farm Bureau leaders, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Army Corps of Engineers officials unveiled a proposed rule last week intended to clarify and simplify which water bodies remain under federal jurisdiction.

The proposal establishes six categories considered “waters of the U.S.” and also spells out specific exclusions, including farm ditches and prior converted cropland (PCC), among other things.

EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler said the proposal will end years of uncertainty over where state water control ends and federal control begins.

“Our goal is a more precise definition that gives the American people the freedom and certainty to do what they do best – build homes, grow crops, develop projects that improve the environment and the lives of their fellow citizens,” Wheeler said.

The proposal represents the second in a two-step process to repeal and replace the 2015 rule finalized under President Barack Obama’s administration. Wheeler described the 2015 rule as a “power grab.”

EPA and the Corps received more than 6,000 recommendations from stakeholders, including IFB, when drafting the proposed rule.

Under the proposed rule, the following will be considered federal waters:

 - Traditional navigable waters.

 - Tributaries to those navigable waters.

 - Ditches used for navigation or effected by tides.

 - Certain lakes and ponds.

 - Impoundments.

 - Wetlands adjacent to “waters of the U.S.”

Excluded from federal control, under the proposed rule, include features that only contain water in response to or during rainfall; PCC; groundwater; most ditches; stormwater control features; and wastewater and waste treatment features.

Illinois Farm Bureau President Richard Guebert Jr., who attended the proposed rule signing last week in Washington, D.C., applauded the administration for addressing farmers’ concerns. Illinois farmers, he said, want clean water and clear rules.

“As a farmer I should be able to look at my land and know what is and is not a ‘water of the U.S.’ under the Clean Water Act,” Guebert said. “The previous regulatory patchwork created uncertainty; this proposal establishes national consistency.”

The agencies will accept public comment for 60 days, a timeline that will begin once the proposal is published in the Federal Register.

A series of court rulings and injunctions have left the 2015 rule in effect in 22 states, including Illinois, and the 1980s rule in place in 28 states.

The 253-page rule can be read here.