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U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works

06/12/2019 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 06/12/2019 13:11

Barrasso: It’s Critical to Issue New, Lawful Definition for Waters of the United States

Click here to watch Chairman Barrasso's remarks.

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today, U.S. Senator John Barrasso (R-WY), chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW), delivered the following remarks at a hearing titled 'A Review of Waters of the U.S. Regulations: Their Impact on States and the American People.'

The hearing featured testimony from Todd Fornstrom, president of the Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation; Doug C. Goehring, commissioner of the North Dakota Department of Agriculture; and Richard Elías, supervisor of District 5 of the Pima County Board of Supervisors in Arizona.

For more information on witness testimony click here.

Senator Barrasso's remarks:

'This is the committee's first hearing on WOTUS since the Trump administration published its proposal to re-define the term earlier this year.

'The Trump administration is not the first to examine the term 'waters of the United States.'

'For more than forty-five years, all three branches of government have struggled to interpret the phrase.

'We've heard many times in this committee about the undue regulatory burden placed on American farmers and ranchers when the term is defined too broadly.

'Previous definitions have inappropriately and illegally expanded Washington's control over water features all across the country.

'You can look no further than the Obama administration's illegal, so-called 'Clean Water Rule.'

'In 2017, the committee held a hearing on the legal, scientific and technical basis for the rule.

'We heard how the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was cut out of the rulemaking process.

'Major General John Peabody, who was a leader at the Corps during the Clean Water Rule's development, testified to this committee that the Clean Water Rule was not based on the Corps' expertise or experience.

'Under the prior administration's rule, ranchers and farmers across the country were told their irrigation ditches, their ponds, and their puddles, were 'navigable waters' and could be regulated by the federal government.

'The Clean Water Act is a strict liability statute. If the federal government claims a landowner has violated the Clean Water Act, that landowner can face thousands or millions of dollars in penalties.

'This has played out in my home state of Wyoming.

'During the Obama administration, the EPA alleged that Andy Johnson, a farmer in Fort Bridger, Wyoming, owed $16 million in fines for putting a stock pond on his land in 2012.

'That was outrageous. 

'Congress opposed the Obama administration's rule.

'Under a joint resolution introduced by Senator Ernst, both Houses of Congress disapproved the rule under the Congressional Review Act.

'President Obama vetoed the resolution and allowed the rule to be implemented.

'The courts have since stepped in and blocked the rule from going into effect in a majority of states across the country.

'Many of those legal battles continue to this day.

'Just a few weeks ago, on May 28, 2019, a federal judge in Galveston, Texas was the first judge to rule on the merits of the Obama administration's rule.

'That judge found that the Obama administration had violated the Administrative Procedure Act when it issued the rule.

'While the rule is blocked in a majority of states, it does remain the law in 23 states and some counties in New Mexico.

'That is why it is critical that the Trump administration expeditiously repeal the Obama administration's rule, and issue a new, lawful definition for waters of the United States.

'A definition that everyone can understand.

'A definition that does not take away states' rights.

'And a definition that respects the Clean Water Act and the Constitution.

'In the past, the complex WOTUS regulations have forced landowners to hire expensive consultants in order to figure out whether a water body on their land is a water of the United States.

'The Trump administration's proposed rule is an attempt to bring more regulatory certainty to American landowners.

'That is why I am so pleased that we have this panel of witnesses today.

'I look forward to hearing their reactions to the Trump administration's proposal.

'I want to know if the rule is workable for them.

'The administration needs to get this definition right.

'We need to remove the cloud of uncertainty that landowners, business owners, businesses, and states have faced over the years.

'Today's hearing is an important opportunity to hear from stakeholders on how past definitions have gotten it wrong, and what the Trump administration can do to get it right.'

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