U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), senior member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, questioned witnesses at an EPW hearing entitled “A Review of Waters of the U.S. Regulations: Their Impact on States and the American People.”
Witnesses included Mr. Todd Fornstrom, President of the Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation; The Honorable Doug C. Goehring, Commissioner of North Dakota Department of Agriculture; and Mr. Richard Elias, Supervisor of District five of the Pima County Board of Supervisors in Arizona.
Inhofe: Thank you Mr. Chairman. I first of all appreciate this hearing probably more than anybody else does since I chaired this committee during the last administration. I have been listening very carefully and I have to tell you—as I said in a comment earlier—that this this issue was not just one issue to our farmers and ranchers in Oklahoma it is the issue — it is number one. I know that Mr. Fornstrom, you are with the American Farm Bureau so I am sure you hear this from a lot of the others that are out there. Real quickly, Mr. Fornstrom, the Obama-era WOTUS rule is not currently in effect in your state of Wyoming, but it is in my state of Oklahoma. Now you broadly in your opening statement talked about some of the cost, but would you specifically talk about some of the cost associated with your situation as opposed to our situation or what we’re going to have to be subjected to that you now are not because you are not under this regulation. What are some of the things that states would suffer from under the previous administrations record—the cost?
Fornstorm: The cost of the producer, the cost of permitting, the cost of consultants can be in the thousands if not in the hundreds of thousands. That's not an excuse to have dirty water and we as farmers don't want dirty water. We are happy to do it, but if the cost is more than what we will get out of it, it’s a business decision and they will quit doing it if that's what it comes down to.
Inhofe: Well you know there is this assumption that people who own the property are not going to be the best stewards of the property. We had an interesting experience with one of the people from the previous administration coming out. In fact, I made this a requirement before his confirmation to come out to Oklahoma on the partnership program. You’re both familiar with that partnership program. They came back with glowing reports that yes, in fact, those property owners in my state of Oklahoma, and I suspect all around the country, are very much the most concerned people about their own properties. That’s not just unique to Oklahoma. Now, there is this assumption that liberals generally have that states are really not competent to get these things done and that they have to rely on the wisdom of the federal government to get it done. I’d like to ask you, Commissioner Goehring, what are some of the things that these states are doing right now that we may not be aware of that are actually being done, in your opinion, better than the federal government?
Goehring: Sen. Inhofe, it's interesting that you would ask that because I’m confused about all this discussion about the whole definition and reworking everything, revamping and trying to take control of large tracks of land where there are no rivers or no streams and only ditches and other problems—isolated water features. States have a responsibility under the Clean Water Act. They have primacy. They have a cooperators agreement with the EPA. They have to maintain and respect the law of the land which is the Clean Water Act. To disregard it or to say that states can't be any more strict because their legislatures won't allow is irrelevant. You still have to maintain the law of the land. You still have to regulate. You still have to implement. And if the federal government has control of it, it doesn't mean that it’s going to be any better regulated. In fact, you might be missing unique opportunities in which you’re going to be addressing the unique situation of the watershed itself. And that is where the state has the intimate knowledge to go in and do the testing, to mitigate issues, to have control without requiring a farmer or a rancher to go get a permit, to pay for a permit, to pay for a consultant to make sure they are not doing something because it is perceived that way. The reality is the state is still there monitoring, regulating and they understand the resource better.
Inhofe: Well, that is an excellent statement and let’s stop and look at what’s happened since 1972. We have been very successful in the system that we have used and in its giving the states those powers of that regulation. Excellent response, thank you. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.