Blaine’s Bulletin: Waters of the United States (WOTUS)

Here in the Third District, we have thousands of miles of shoreline between the Missouri, Mississippi, and Osage Rivers and the Lake of the Ozarks. We’re fortunate to have these water resources as they create jobs, support tourism, provide shipping routes through our state, and help our farmers grow crops. With so many people across Missouri and America depending on our major waterways, it makes sense to have some regulations in place – not as many as we have, but some – to ensure our rivers are maintained for recreational and commercial use for generations to come. I think most of us can agree on that. We can probably also agree that a stream behind your house, a pond on a farm, or even a naturally occurring pond that only exists during wet times of year should not be regulated by the federal government as if they’re the Mississippi River. Unfortunately, that is exactly what the Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are doing with their changes to the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) Rule. And it doesn’t stop at water. The regulation extends to the land surrounding the water. According to the Missouri Farm Bureau, under the Biden Administration’s version of WOTUS, 99% of Missouri land could be technically subject to the water regulations.

WOTUS has a complex regulatory history that began in 1972 when Congress passed the Clean Water Act (CWA) to “restore and maintain the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters.” The bill was designed to protect “navigable waters” or “Waters of the United States” which we have come to refer to as “WOTUS” over the years. WOTUS rules have changed from administration to administration. But the last administration cleared up much of the confusion by creating one, clear definition for “navigable waters” written with a focus on protecting actual navigable waters of the United States and clarifying any regulatory uncertainty. By repealing those changes and massively expanding the scope of WOTUS, the Biden Administration has created a significant amount of confusion and hardship for many Americans. So much so that these changes were taken to the United States Supreme Court where arguments on Sackett v. EPA were heard last October and a ruling is expected this year. The definition for “navigable waters” has become so overarching that runoff from a large rainstorm could fall under this category. Because of this ridiculous expansion of the rule, farmers, ranchers, homebuilders and essentially anyone who owns a piece of land is potentially subject to these murky laws, and the onus is on them to navigate the government red tape to figure out whether they are working on “federally protected wetland.”

Last month, Missouri Farm Bureau President Garrett Hawkins – a fifth generation cattleman and former Deputy Director of Agriculture for our state – came to Capitol Hill to testify on behalf of Missouri farmers in front of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Water Resources Subcommittee. He spoke about how Missouri farmers and ranchers rely on healthy soil and clean water, and how the vagueness of the new rules has created widespread confusion and caused ag producers in our state to suffer. During his testimony, Mr. Hawkins told the subcommittee, “[t]his rule threatens to impede farmers’ and ranchers’ ability to provide safe, affordable, and abundant food, fuel, and fiber to the citizens of this nation and the world.” Missouri has an almost $94 billion ag industry that employs nearly 460,000 Missourians, and most farms are family-owned. We cannot let this government overreach get in the way of our longstanding agricultural tradition.

And it’s not just farmers and ranchers whose operations have been affected by these expanded regulations and forced to bear this burden. The House Small Business Committee held a hearing on WOTUS this week due to the wide-reaching effects on small businesses. Homebuilders, manufacturers, business owners and ag producers shouldn’t have to hire a team of lawyers or engineers to make changes to their own land just to avoid penalties from the federal government. But they may not have a choice if things don’t change.

As I said, the Supreme Court decision should be made later this year. However, we cannot be sure what the ruling will be. The Congressional Review Act (CRA) allows Congress to conduct oversight over rules issued by federal agencies, and this week the House passed a resolution to overturn the Biden Administration’s flawed WOTUS rule. Candidly, with the Senate and White House in Democrat control, getting the bill into law will be an uphill battle. Either way, I’ll continue to use every tool at my disposal to overturn this harmful, senseless regulation and many others like it.