Thanks to a federal judge in South Carolina, Evan Kruse is taking stock of how much water is used at Kruse Farms and where it comes from. Because, if he hears of other farmers are getting fines, he’s going to “have to file for a permit to do absolutely every step of the farming process.”
The worry about water comes after the judge filed an injunction blocking the Trump administration’s delay of the regulation that defines what wetlands and waterways get federal protection. The injunction essentially restores the Waters of the U.S. rule in 26 states including Oregon.
“The Waters of the U.S. rule basically throws the guidelines of the Clean Water Act, the limits of the Clean Water Act, out the window,” Kruse said. “It puts us as natural resource users in this limbo wondering if basically everything we do could be in violation of the Clean Water Act because of their new definition of the Waters of the U.S.”
Kruse is the president of the Douglas County Farm Bureau, a lobbying group that has been at the front of the fight against the rule. Mary Anne Cooper is the Public Policy Counsel for the Oregon Farm Bureau and urged the Trump administration to permanently repeal the rule from 2015.
“Every day Oregon’s farmers and ranchers work very hard to maximize water efficiency and protect water quality because their livelihood and future depend on it, it’s the law, and it’s simply the right thing to do,” Cooper said in a statement about the injunction. “The 2015 WOTUS rule will hurt family agriculture in Oregon and is a case of extreme government overreach with no regard to the impact on rural communities.”
President Donald Trump signed an executive order in 2017 directing Pruitt to review the Clean Water Rule signed in 2015. Pruitt was able to hold the rule for two years while he evaluated whether to rescind or rewrite it. In February last year, the rule was blocked for another two years to February 2020 until the federal court in South Carolina’s injunction.
“I don’t think anybody expects the EPA to start enforcing every single thing that could be enforced, but it’s this selective enforcement,” Kruse said. “If we wanted to completely cover ourselves, we would have to go through the permitting process for all of that.”
In essence, the rule would establish whether anti-pollution laws are triggered if a farmer blocks a stream to make a pond for livestock, a developer fills in part of a wetland to put up a house or an oil pipeline has to cross a creek.
The final rule ensures protections for tributaries that have physical signs of flowing water, even if they don’t run all year round, and ditches that “look and act” like tributaries, said Jo-Ellen Darcy, the assistant secretary of the Army for civil works.
“The 2015 WOTUS rule goes far beyond congressional intent and the lawful bounds of the Clean Water Act as articulated by previous Supreme Court decisions,” Cooper said. “At best, it is a solution in search of a problem. At worst, it is a federal land grab designed to give DEQ and EPA control over Oregon’s farmland far beyond what the law calls for.”