EPA roundtable: Stakeholders share WOTUS perspective
Washington, D.C. – On June 6, several stakeholders met to discuss their perspectives and experiences during a roundtable discussion regarding the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) and Army Corps of Engineers’ ongoing rulemaking and definition of the Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS). The meeting was organized by the Kansas Livestock Association (KLA).
The roundtable was one of 10 accepted by the EPA and Army Corps. In July 2021, the EPA announced the agency would be seeking feedback from private organizations to plan and organize a roundtable with representatives from agriculture, conservation groups, developers, water and wastewater managers, industry, Tribal leadership, environmental justice groups and state and local governments.
“WOTUS remains a critical issue,” noted EPA Office of Water Deputy Assistant Administrator Navis Bermundez. “The definition of WOTUS is fundamental to the Clean Water Act and central to continue to ensure clean and safe water we can all rely on.”
“Our country’s water resources are incredibly diverse, as are the experiences and perspectives of those affected by the application of this term [WOTUS] on the ground – it’s important for agencies to understand those experiences and perspectives,” she continued. “Today’s roundtable, and the other nine which will be happening, is one part of this effort.”
Last fall, the EPA proposed a rule in regards to the definition of WOTUS and the public comment period closed on Feb. 7, 2022.
“We can’t consider any new information provided from the roundtables as part of the process, but we do look forward to hearing your feedback and experiences with how we implement the term [WOTUS] so we can do a better job to ensure we all have access to clean water moving forward,” she said.
“The Army recognizes the importance and value of our nation’s water resources,” shared Army for Civil Works Water Resources Regulation and Policy Advisor Elliott Carman. “We’ve joined the EPA in this effort to understand your experiences and perspectives related to the definition of WOTUS.”
During the roundtable discussion, several key points were highlighted. Attendees pointed out cattle producers need certainty under the rules, and cattle producers of all sizes care about the environment.
“We supported the Navigable Waters Protection Rule, particularly because it gave some bright, bright lines for our producers to decide, do I need to talk to EPA or do I need to talk to the state regulatory agency,” said KLA Vice President of Legal and Government Affairs Aaron Popelka. “We need some clear markers in the field for our members to determine, yes, I need to consult with the agency.”
“There is a misconception [cattle feeders] don’t care about the environment, but this couldn’t be farther from the truth,” explained KLA President-Elect Shawn Tiffany. “The fact my operation is large only means my stewardship mindset impacts more acres.”
“I’m not opposed to regulation,” he added. “Water quality not only impacts my own operation and those of my neighbors, but those of the people in cities who are using our products, whether it’s homebuilders, oil, aggregate or agriculture commodities.”
“I think where the EPA’s jurisdiction stops, and is probably more effectively administered, is in interstate water bodies – rivers crossing state lines, large empowerments of water such as reservoirs,” he continued. “Beyond this, I would rather see the EPA budget used to provide continuity between state agencies and for education rather than regulation.”
Tiffany and Kansas Association of Conservation Districts Executive Director Dan Meyerhoff continued to discuss these voluntary incentives and education.
“Changes in practices or adoption of new management strategies are much better incentivized by education than regulation,” said Tiffany.
Meyerhoff added, “If we increase regulations and make things more stringent, it’s going to hinder the voluntary conservation efforts I think are very successful here.”
Kansas Department of Health and Environment Former Deputy Secretary for Environment Gary Mason suggested EPA pause WOTUS rulemaking while the supreme court hears Sackett v. EPA.
He continued to say, “If we write a rule now, finalize it and then get the Sackett [v. EPA] ruling from the Supreme Court, we are just going to drag out this uncertainty. I think we are better off waiting until the decision is made and then move forward with a final rule.”
In April and May of 2007, Chantell and Mike Sackett filled in one-half acre of a lot in a residential area near Priest Lake, Idaho in preparation to build a house. On Nov. 26, 2007, the EPA issued a compliance order against the Sacketts stating the parcel is a wetland subject to the Clean Water Act and the Sacketts violated the act by filling in their property without first obtaining a permit.
“Cattle producers are grateful for the opportunity to share their perspective on WOTUS and explain how rules crafted in Washington will impact the daily operations of farms and ranches across the county,” mentioned National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) Environmental Counsel Mary-Thomas Hart. “To be successful in their operations, cattle producers need a clear, limited WOTUS definition that finally provides much-needed certainty after years of shifting rules.”
Additionally, the NCBA engaged on WOTUS by submitting technical comments on the Biden administration’s proposed phase one WOTUS rule and filing an amicus brief in the Sackett v. EPA case – this was a challenge to the EPA’s authority under the Clean Water Act.
Furthermore, NCBA has called for EPA to pause WOTUS rulemaking until the case is decided.
“It was really interesting to hear all of the different regional perspectives,” said EPA Regional Counsel Sylvia Quast. “I’ve been working on this issue for quite some time and it became really clear to me regional differences are really important and we at the agencies need to figure out how to take those into account. We need to make sure our programs are running more effectively and can take into account those differences in how we are doing things.”
“People had different perspectives and different viewpoints, but the thing I was really struck by was how respectful everyone was of different opinions,” she said.
The roundtable provided EPA with a lot to think about, Quast noted by sharing, “Thinking about better ways of implementing our programs, better ways of thinking of WOTUS and how it affects rural and small communities, mid-sized cities and all kinds of folks, again [the discussion] was very much appreciated.”
Brittany Gunn is the editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.