NCBA - February 7, 2022
The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) submitted a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on behalf of over 1,600 cattle producers from 44 states calling for a definition of “Waters of the United States” (WOTUS) that works for the cattle industry.
The letter is in response to a rule proposed by the Biden administration to repeal the Navigable Waters Protection Rule and implement new regulations on water features, including features commonly found on farms and ranches. The letter asks EPA Administrator Michael Regan to support a limited, clear definition of WOTUS that maintains agricultural exclusions and respects existing Supreme Court precedent limiting federal jurisdiction over small bodies of water.
“The Biden administration’s rule repeals bipartisan exclusions for agriculture that existed under both Democratic and Republican administrations,” said NCBA Chief Environmental Counsel Scott Yager. “Without these critical exclusions, common features like stock ponds, agricultural ditches, and drainage systems can fall under federal jurisdiction, preventing cattle producers from actively managing their land and caring for their cattle.”
Despite the Biden administration representing this approach as a simple repeal, the draft rule is a significant change from both the Obama-era 2015 WOTUS rule and the Trump-era Navigable Waters Protection Rule, both of which maintained these exclusions which sought to protect the farmers and ranchers who manage stock ponds and certain ditches without disruptions from the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers.
“Stock ponds provide drinking water for cattle and agricultural ditches keep fields from flooding. Regulating these small features does nothing to improve water quality and makes day-to-day operations more difficult for cattle producers,” said NCBA Treasurer Joe Guild, a Nevada rancher and member of the NCBA Environmental Working Group. “Cattle producers already take steps to protect water—without government intervention—because it’s the right thing to do. Furthermore, farmers and ranchers are already doing good conservation work. I encourage the Biden administration to listen to farmers and ranchers across the country, rather than issuing top-down regulations from an office in Washington DC.”
The Biden WOTUS proposal also removes exclusions for ephemeral features, or water features that only flow during rain or after snowmelt. This creates even more confusion for cattle producers who may find puddles and creeks on their property that quality as a “WOTUS” during a rainstorm but are normally dry land.
NCBA’s grassroots letter is the culmination of a four-month long campaign to urge the EPA and the Biden administration to finally end the constant regulatory changes that created years of uncertainty for cattle producers. NCBA mobilized cattle producers to share their stories at EPA and Army Corps listening sessions and participate in agency roundtables.
In January 2022, NCBA endorsed a report from the EPA’s Farm, Ranch, and Rural Communities Advisory Committee, which recommended developing a clear WOTUS definition, maintaining exemptions for common agricultural features, and reconsidering the EPA WOTUS roundtable process. Later in January, the Supreme Court announced that it would consider the case Sackett v. EPA and address the scope of WOTUS, leading NCBA to urge the EPA to suspend WOTUS rulemaking until the case is decided. NCBA will continue monitoring WOTUS developments in Washington and advocating for solutions that support cattle producers.