Western Growers applauds Trump's executive order to scrap water rule
An organization that accounts for more than half of U.S. fruit and vegetable production has welcomed an executive order from President Donald Trump to do away with the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule implemented in 2015 by the Obama Administration.
WOTUS itself sought to clarify what was often a divisive interpretation of the term "navigable waters" under the Clean Water Act of 1972 that sought to prevent pollution in U.S. waters, safeguarding nearby waters and tributaries that impact downstream waters.
In a release, Western Growers CEO Tom Nassif said an "abundant availability of clean water" had been protected by the reasonable application of the Clean Water Act, criticizing what he claimed to be an overreach of federal powers under WOTUS.
"The health of our nation’s water is of paramount importance to Western Growers and its 2,500 members who grow more than half of the country’s fresh fruits, vegetables and tree nuts," Nassif said.
"However, we believe the 2015 WOTUS rule exceeded the federal government’s jurisdiction as defined by Congress in the Act, which only intended to give the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) authority over navigable waterways affecting interstate commerce.
"Indeed, this interpretation has been confirmed by the Supreme Court in Rapanos v. United States."
The case involved developer John A. Rapanos' appeal over sentences against him relating to commercial and residential property development in a wetland area of Michigan, for which judges were split on a decision.
Justice Breenen wrote behald of the four liberal judges which upheld the federal government's interpretation of the law, while Justice Kennedy split the difference, agreeing with Justice Scalia that the government overstepped its authority but disagreeing with Scalia's narrow interpretation of the law.
Western Growers described the "Kennedy test" on the extent of a federal government’s jurisdiction as generally seen as the one that is controlling.
In the end, Rapanos agreed to pay a civil penalty and recreate approximately 100 acres of wetlands and buffer areas to resolve violations of the Clean Water Act.
However, according to Western Growers the ruling effectively killed off the federal regulations under the Act that were in place at the time, and since then there has been case-by-case choices at the field level which has led to "uneven decision-making".
The Obama Administration's WOTUS has been met with backlash from conservatives since its inception, and in his executive order this week Trump claimed the move to scrap the rule was about compliance with the 1972 act while promoting economic activity.
"It is in the national interest to ensure that the Nation's navigable waters are kept free from pollution, while at the same time promoting economic growth, minimizing regulatory uncertainty, and showing due regard for the roles of the Congress and the States under the Constitution," Trump said.
The executive order will take time to come into effect however, with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) now needing to provide a revised rule that holds up in court.
"EPA intends to immediately implement the Executive Order and submit a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to withdraw and replace the rule," the agency said on its website.
"The President’s action preserves a federal role in protecting water, but it also restores the states’ important role in the regulation of water."
Nassif reaffirmed Western Growers was pleased with the order directing the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers to formally reconsider WOTUS.
"While we recognize this order will not immediately repeal the rule, it will provide adequate space for these federal agencies to engage state and local governments to craft an alternative solution that both fits within the boundaries prescribed in the Act and serves the best interests of the environment and key stakeholders," he said.
"More importantly, we believe the order should spur Congress toward much-needed legislation clarifying the reach and extent of federal jurisdiction under the Act.
"Since the Rapanos decision, there has been significant inconsistency in interpretation and application of the Act, which has resulted in harmful unintended economic consequences for landowners. After decades of inactivity, we call on Congress to enact legislation defining the limits of the Clean Water Act."