Trump acts on Clean Water Rule

Usually when federal agencies review rules, they are planning to extend their reach further into our daily lives and our businesses. But a review under way on the Clean Water Rule could mean less future federal intrusion for rural residents, farmers and ranchers.

You may recall that former President Obama essentially ordered the federal Environmental Protection Agency to try to regulate nearly all water — even on private lands — through administrative rulemaking in 2015. You may also recall that during the presidential campaign, then-candidate Donald J. Trump vowed to rescind the rule if elected.

Last week, now-President Trump took the first step to make good on his campaign promise. He signed an executive order calling for the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to rescind or revise the Clean Water Rule.

Under the rule, the EPA defined its jurisdiction of so-called “waters of the U.S.” to include those with a “significant nexus” to navigable waters, interstate waters, wetlands, territorial seas, impoundments, ponds, lakes, oxbows and navigable waters and tributaries. Just about the only thing not on the list were sewage and manure lagoons, and wastewater treatment plants.

For the record, federal law essentially defines navigable waters as any body that doesn’t dry up and can be used for commerce. So, if you can float a canoe in it year-round, it’s navigable and regulated by the EPA.

Rescinding the rule would be preferable. Local authorities should be making the rules relating to our water here in Eastern Washington, not some bureaucrat in the “other Washington.”

Had the Clean Water Rule been allowed to be enforced, it would have essentially given complete control of our water — nearly every drop — to the EPA.

While not overtly connected, the rule tied in nicely with the EPA’s funding of the anti-agriculture “What’s Upstream “campaign, in which the agency gave the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission $655,000 used to paint farmers and ranchers on our side of the state as blatant polluters and fish-killers.

Conspiracy or coincidence?

Doesn’t matter. I guess you could say Eastern Washington was sort of a testbed on how far government would and could go to controlling farming activities adjacent to water, as well as the water itself. The combination of the What’s Upstream campaign and the Clean Water Rule was the single most serious threat to farmers in our part of the world the last couple years.

Indeed, the Clean Water Rule had federal bureaucrats chomping at the bit to look at ways to manage — I call it restrict — any and all land-use practices near water. Some of those management practices would amount to a “taking” of private property, and property rights.

With Eastern Washington ruralites riled up by What’s Upstream and the federal government over-reach through rulemaking, other places around the country took notices. Ultimately, 13 states sued the federal government over the water-control measure. (If you were wondering, no, our state was not among those filing suit.)

Lucky for Eastern Washington, a federal appeals court stayed the implementation of the rule in late 2015. It remained in limbo until last week when Trump signed the order.

Let’s hope he’s been able to clean house enough at the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers to have the rule completely rescinded. Our farmers are better stewards of the land and water than anybody in the “other Washington.”

— Roger Harnack is the publisher and editor of The Daily Sun. Email him at


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