Whether you're a farmer in Indiana or a rancher in Wyoming, a Republican from Oklahoma or a Democrat from North Dakota – we all want clean water.
On Friday, EPA's new rule is supposed to go into effect and will attempt to redefine which sources of water can be regulated under the Clean Water Act. Thirty-one states and several industry groups have sued to prevent the rule from moving forward. The EPA wrote and finalized its "Waters of the United States" rule without consulting with some of the people who care about clean water the most: farmers, ranchers, small business owners.
The problem is that the rule, while well-intentioned, provides excessive burdens for small farmers and ranchers. As such, the new rules have created considerable and potentially costly confusion for many American businesses and communities who are just trying to do their jobs well.
EPA's Waters of the U.S. rule has raised concerns across nearly every sector of our economy, from agriculture, real estate and, energy to construction, conservation and recreation. In fact, even our local communities – cities, towns, and counties – are expressing concern. The National Association of Counties said, "the flawed consultation process has resulted in a final rule that does not move us closer to achieving clean water goals and creates more confusion than clarity."
American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman said, "The only thing that is clear and certain is that, under this rule, it will be more difficult for private landowners to farm and ranch, build homes or make changes to the land – even if the changes that landowners propose would benefit the environment."
Most Americans believe we can get more accomplished when we work together. We agree. That's why we worked as a group to introduce bipartisan legislation, the Federal Water Quality Protection Act, which would direct the EPA write a better rule that better serves farmers, ranchers and small businesses by simply making sure that the agency works with our partners across the country to integrate the feedback from those who live and work alongside these waters every day. They are the ones EPA's rule most directly impacts, so they should have their voices heard about how the rule works or doesn't work – something that was missing before this rule was released.
This is something both parties can get behind, by focusing on commonsense principles to shape a final rule and requiring straightforward procedures that the EPA should have taken in its initial proposal. It simply asks EPA to take into account the feedback it has already received and go back and do the research and analysis that wasn't done the first time.
In the principles, we include explicit protections for waters that most everyone agrees should be covered, like our navigable waters and wetlands that filter out pollutants from our rivers and lakes. It also provides commonsense exemptions for isolated ponds and agricultural or roadside ditches, most of which EPA has indicated it never intended to cover.
More importantly, our bill is not designed to undermine the EPA's efforts, but rather to develop an effective, workable rule that gives consideration to those voices who will be most impacted by it. In fact, our bill encourages the EPA to thoroughly and appropriately complete its rule by December 31, 2016.
We need a Waters of the U.S. rule that works to keep our waters clean – something we can all agree upon – as do the communities, businesses and family farms that rely on clean water. Our bill recently passed the Senate Committee Environment and Public Works, and we are hopeful that the full Senate will vote on it soon.
No one wants cleaner water or better land conditions than the families who live on American farms, own American businesses and lead American communities. If we're going write a rule that makes sense for the people who work with the land every day, we need to use their feedback.