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Pete Bonds: EPA’s ill-advised water rule threatens cattle business

As most ranchers and landowners know by now, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) continues waging a war against ranchers and private property owners across the nation by trying to implement its flawed Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule.

 The rule redefines the term “navigable” under WOTUS to allow the EPA to regulate all surface water on private lands. Implementation of the rule would require private property owners to meet stringent and costly EPA regulations, making it more difficult for ranchers to continue running successful cattle operations.

The Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association (TSCRA), its members and many others submitted over 1 million comments voicing their concerns and opposing the rule. The EPA continuously disregarded these serious worries across the country and stressed the agency would move forward with implementation.

On May 27, the EPA announced the final rule and said it would become effective on Aug. 28. While this came as bad news to us, leaders across the nation were still working to prevent it from immediately taking effect. We recently had some notable victories in our fight against the WOTUS rule and as a result it has not yet been implemented.

A preliminary injunction was issued against the rule by a U.S. District Court in North Dakota on Aug. 27, the day before it was to take effect. However, this order applied only to the 13 states involved in the lawsuit. Although Texas and Oklahoma were not included in this litigation, TSCRA was glad to know some preliminary relief had been granted for part of the country.

On Oct. 9, a bigger milestone was achieved when it was announced that the Cincinnati, Ohio-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit had issued a nationwide stay on the rule. The court supported the petitioners’ claim that the rule is illegal because treatment of tributaries, “adjacent waters,” and waters having a “significant nexus” to navigable waters are “at odds” with a U.S. Supreme Court ruling. The court also said that implementation would cause “irreparable harm,” to the states. This decision was a significant achievement for ranchers and landowners who have long worried about the rule, but it didn’t provide a permanent fix.

In addition to recent victories, many federal district courts across the nation, including one in Galveston, are proceeding with multiple lawsuits aimed at indefinitely scrapping the onerous water rule. Lawyers for the Obama administration were seeking to consolidate these legal challenges, but the U.S. Judicial Panel for Multidistrict Litigation refused to grant their request. The seven-judge panel said “centralization will not serve the convenience of the parties.” TSCRA is glad these court cases will move forward separately to provide more ammunition against the EPA water rule.

Further, Congress has introduced and partially passed legislation that would prohibit the EPA from implementing the rule. Most recently, the U.S. Senate passed a joint resolution of disapproval for the rule. This orders the EPA to withdraw the rule and prevents the agency from drafting a similar one in the future. The joint resolution essentially sends a clear message to the EPA that Congress doesn’t approve of the EPA’s plan. This still needs to be passed in the House of Representatives before making it to the president’s desk.

Unfortunately, President Obama has said he will swiftly veto any bill that would block or change the WOTUS rule. This is why we must keep our focus on the litigation working its way through federal courts across the country. While the rule has been temporarily blocked by the judicial stay, we must keep working to get it thrown out for good.

TSCRA will continue working closely with state and federal officials, as well as other cattle industry and landowner organizations, to permanently put this issue to rest. TSCRA greatly appreciates the tireless efforts already put forth by many leaders across the country.

TSCRA leaders and staff will be sure to keep their members informed of any new developments in our fight against the Environmental Protection Agency’s WOTUS rule. Securing private property rights has been and will always remain one of our top priorities at the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association.

Pete Bonds is president of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association. He operates the Bonds Ranch in Saginaw.

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