WASHINGTON — On Jan. 19, several agriculture groups and stakeholders filed a complaint against the Biden administration, challenging the clarity of the final definition of the “Waters of the US” (WOTUS).
The plaintiffs include the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), American Farm Bureau Federation, National Pork Producers Council (NPPC), and US Poultry & Egg Association, among others.
Early in January, the Biden administration announced the final WOTUS rule, which it said restored essential water protection that was in place before the 2015 Clean Water Act (CWA).
In their complaint filed to the US District Court, Southern District of Texas, Galveston Division, the groups said that the new WOTUS definition fails to provide clarity but rather creates a vague meaning of WOTUS that gives the US Environmental Protection Agency and the US Army Corps of Engineers greater CWA jurisdiction.
“Under the rule, plaintiffs’ members will constantly be at risk that any sometimes-wet feature on their property will be deemed WOTUS by the agencies using vague and unpredictable standards — making normal business activities in that area subject to criminal and civil penalties,” the groups wrote.
In a statement following the lawsuit filing, NCBA expressed its concerns with the final rule.
“The Biden administration’s WOTUS definition is an attack on farmers and ranchers, and NCBA will be fighting back in court,” said Mary-Thomas Hart, NCBA chief counsel. “The rule removes longstanding, bipartisan exclusions for small and isolated water features on farms and ranches and adds to the regulatory burden cattle producers are facing under this administration. We look forward to challenging this rule in court and ensuring that cattle producers are treated fairly under the law.”
More than 1,700 cattle producers sent comments to the EPA in opposition of the WOTUS definition in 2022, according to NCBA.
Virginia cattle producer and NCBA Policy Vice Chair Gene Copenhaver said, “Farmers are stewards of the land and understand the importance of clean water. Unfortunately, this rule lacks common sense and makes our lives more complicated. My cattle operation in southwest Virginia has a creek that only carries water after large storms. Under this WOTUS rule, we could be subject to complex federal regulation.”
Michael Formica, chief legal strategist at NPPC, added in a comment to MEAT+POULTRY, “Stewardship of natural resources is a top priority for pork producers. The WOTUS rule creates significant confusion, still seeks to regulate land use activities and drainage features constructed by farmers that are far beyond EPA’s jurisdiction, and will create significant concerns for both livestock and row crop farmers.”
A case related to the CWA, Sackett v. EPA, was presented before the US Supreme Court in October 2022. A ruling is expected in early 2023, which may affect the final WOTUS rule.
This story was modified on Jan. 19 to include a statement from NPPC.