In a move that is sure to rally the Republican base, nearly 200 House Republicans have banded together to demand that the Biden administration rescinds a regulation that could threaten the livelihoods of thousands of American farmers and ranchers.
Led by Congressional Western Caucus Chairman Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., and cosigned by 193 fellow Republicans including House Majority Whip Tom Emmer, R-Minn., the letter argues that the so-called Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule, which broadly defines water sources protected under the Clean Water Act, would create regulatory uncertainty and confusion for farmers, ranchers and other small business owners, putting them at risk of jail time and other legal punishments if they misinterpret the rule.
“I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, WOTUS is the most egregious federal overreach this nation has ever faced,” Newhouse said in a statement. “Every farmer, rancher, or property owner who moves dirt will be harmed by this rule.”
The EPA rule opens the door for the federal government to regulate wetlands, lakes, ponds, streams and “relatively permanent” waterways, largely mimicking a pre-2015 environmental rule set during the Obama administration which implemented the changes in an effort to curb water pollution.
The rule, however, has faced widespread backlash from Republicans, farmers and agriculture industry groups, who say it represents a massive federal overreach that would make it “more difficult for farmers and ranchers to ensure food security.”
“Rural communities in the West and across the country are dedicated to clean water and do not deserve to be punished by the continued legal uncertainty that this new final rule promulgates,” the lawmakers wrote in the letter.
The battle over how to define protected water sources in the U.S. stretches back nearly a decade. Years after the Obama-era changes were unveiled, the Trump administration reversed the rule and highlighted which water sources, such as puddles, groundwater, many ditches, farm and stock watering ponds and waste treatment systems, that it wouldn’t consider in need of federal protection. Then, in 2021, a federal judge struck down the Trump administration’s change and reinstated a pre-Obama WOTUS regulation.
In addition to their concerns about the rule’s impact on farmers and ranchers, Republicans also expressed concern that the EPA deliberately timed the announcement during the holidays to “score political points and appease activists.” They concluded the letter, urging the EPA to rescind the December rule and postpone any action on the issue until the Supreme Court makes a ruling in Sackett v. EPA.
“The American people deserve certainty and an assurance that existing rules and regulations will not fluctuate with the threat of criminal penalties and significant financial hardship for failing to abide by the ever-changing rules,” they wrote. “This new WOTUS definition will only increase regulatory uncertainty and worsen conditions for farmers, ranchers, job creators, and landowners.”
This move by Republicans is a strong indication of their commitment to fighting back against what they see as federal overreach and standing up for the rights of farmers and ranchers.
It also sends a clear message to the Biden administration that any regulations that threaten the livelihoods of hardworking Americans will not be tolerated.