On Nov. 17, Gov. Terry Branstad said Iowa will join 13 other states in a lawsuit challenging a federal rule designed to protect smaller streams, tributaries and wetlands. He says the regulations are misguided and would harm farmers, landowners and small businesses. In this case, which is pending in U.S. District Court in North Dakota, the lawsuit has been filed against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and their Waters of the U.S. rule. Iowa joins in support of the 13 other states who are challenging the legality of the WOTUS rule: North Dakota, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, South Dakota, Wyoming and New Mexico.
Nationwide, governors or attorney generals from over 31 states have taken action to ensure innovative state-based water quality initiatives, like the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy, are not bogged down in federal bureaucratic red tape, says a statement released by Branstad's office.
Misguided rule is actually hurting efforts to improve water quality
"The WOTUS rule is a federal overreach that imposes significant barriers and impairs Iowa's ability to advance innovative, water quality practices that would actually advance our common goal of water quality," says Branstad. "I ran for Governor in 2010 to return predictability and stability to Iowa and this federal rule increases, rather than decreases, uncertainty for Iowa farmers and small businesses."
In October 2014 Gov. Branstad, Lt. Gov. Reynolds, Ag Secretary Bill Northey and other state leaders sent EPA comments on the then proposed WOTUS rule. They said the federal rule seems to be more concerned with federal control over local water bodies than actually improving water quality. "Hopefully, this rule will be withdrawn so Iowa can continue to improve water quality through the collaborative and innovative Nutrient Reduction Strategy," says Reynolds.
Northey adds, "The misguided WOTUS rulemaking process has created uncertainty and has threatened to impede our efforts to get conservation and water quality practices on the land. Joining this lawsuit is the right thing to do and I hope that ultimately the courts will overturn the rule." Congressional leaders have also said the rule creates uncertainty for farmers and infringes on landowners' rights.
ICGA applauds Branstad for taking a stand against WOTUS
On behalf of Iowa's corn farmers, the Iowa Corn Growers Association issued a statement thanking Branstad and Reynolds for intervening in the Waters of the U.S. lawsuit. "EPA's WOTUS rule is overreaching and could hamper farmers' ability to implement the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy," says Bob Hemesath, who farms at Calmar in northeast Iowa and is president of ICGA. "WOTUS puts farmers at considerable risk because a common farming practice that takes place in or near defined water could now be in violation of federal law if the farmers have not obtained necessary Clean Water Act permits."
"While this rulemaking is much needed to clarify which waters need appropriate permits, the final rule made things worse," says Hemesath. "The rulemaking process was flawed and it made significant changes without an opportunity for receiving public comments. We are concerned that erosion features, grass waterways, ditches and farmed wetlands will be jurisdictional and require permits, discouraging the continuation of soil and water conservation measures. EPA should start over and work with the states as the states do most of the actual implementation of the rule."
Hemesath adds, "ICGA will stand up and use our voice in hopes EPA will rework this ruling and propose a new one that allows farmers to continue to do their jobs without having to get costly permits. This issue will be decided by the Courts, and ICGA is glad Iowa will now have representation in the lawsuit."
Iowa Cattlemen applaud Iowa efforts to halt WOTUS
The Iowa Cattlemen's Association is also appreciative of Gov. Branstad and Sen. Ernst's efforts to stop EPA's controversial WOTUS rule, the ICA wrote in a press release issued November 17.
Earlier this month, U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, introduced a resolution of disapproval, aiming to put an end to EPA's expanded definition of the WOTUS rule. Her resolution passed the U.S. Senate with bipartisan support. Ernst has been very vocal and active in her work to stop WOTUS, saying the resolution was "a major win for our hardworking farmers, ranchers, manufacturers and small businesses that are continuously ignored by the EPA."
Cattlemen support a full repeal of WOTUS language
Phil Reemtsma, president of the Iowa Cattlemen's Association, praised the governor's move. "We are glad Gov. Branstad seems to have a good understanding of how WOTUS could hurt Iowa agriculture. We appreciate his support on this."
The WOTUS rule is currently not in effect in Iowa, due to a temporary stay issued by the Sixth Judicial Circuit Court of Appeals in October 2015. This action prevents implementation of the rule in the United States until the court can determine jurisdiction over the many pending lawsuits. The Iowa Cattlemen's Association strongly supports a full repeal of the WOTUS language, says Reemtsma.
EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers wrote the rule to try to clarify the types of water bodies to be regulated under the Clean Water Act, following two U.S. Supreme Court rulings. EPA leaders say the regulations are needed to limit pollution in small waterways and wetlands that millions of Americans depend on for drinking water. The WOTUS rule was issued in August, but a divided panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals put the rule on hold last month while lawsuits around the country proceed.