IFB testifies at WOTUS rule hearing


Illinois farmers aren’t optimistic about their ability to easily implement conservation practices if the federal government returns to a previous definition of “waters of the United States,” Illinois Farm Bureau’s Lauren Lurkins told officials from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Army Corps of Engineers.

Lurkins, IFB’s director of environmental policy, testified during a Jan. 12 virtual hearing on the rule, formally proposed in November by the Biden administration. Another hearing was held Jan. 13, and a final public hearing is scheduled for Tuesday.

The proposed regulation would repeal the 2020 Navigable Waters Protection Rule (NWPR), re-establish the definition of WOTUS to what was in place from 1986 to 2015 and broaden the federal government’s authority under the Clean Waters Act (CWA).

IFB members are frustrated that the definition is being rewritten — again — and feel like the process is confusing to follow, Lurkins said.

Farmers “fear what their lives and businesses will be like if the proposed rule — as it is drafted — becomes reality,” Lurkins said. “They fear the true impact on small businesses is much, much greater than zero.”

She said farmers’ major concern with the proposed rule stems from changes around ephemeral streams and their adjacent wetlands, which were excluded from the WOTUS definition and government jurisdiction under NWPR.

Under the new proposed rule, ephemeral streams that meet the significant nexus standard would be jurisdictional as tributaries.

The significant nexus standard would mean “waters that are either alone or in combination with similarly situated waters in the region, significantly affect the chemical, physical, or biological integrity of traditional navigable waters, interstate waters, or the territorial seas,” under the proposal.

“That is where the heartburn lies,” Lurkins said of the changes surrounding ephemeral streams. “(Farmers) just can’t see where ephemeral features can be regulated under a new rule in a way that does not hamstring the regulated public. They just can’t see where the projects end up not being complex and delayed.”

IFB continues to ask FB ACT members to urge the administration to withdraw its proposal. An action request went live Jan. 5 and goes dark Feb. 7, when the comment period on the proposed rule closes.

To join the action request, text IFB WOTUS to 52886.

So far 1,313 comments have been submitted. IFB plans to file a full comment suggesting changes to the proposal.

Lurkins said farmers would like to see a final rule with clear terms that are easy to interpret and apply, with an eye toward flexibility to conduct innovative and environmentally beneficial projects.

Ultimately, she added, farmers hope the agencies listen to and take serious their recommendations.

“As farmers and ranchers, and people like me who represent them on days like today, show up for one stakeholder comment period after another, they hope for meaningful engagement, and ultimately for a rule that reflects what they say, the experiences and difficulties they have shared, and concerns they have,” Lurkins said.

This story was provided by FarmWeekNow.com.