Iowa Joins WOTUS Fray

Iowa Gov. Branstad Says Rule Creates Uncertainty

Todd Neeley
By  Todd Neeley , DTN Staff Reporter
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Ag and many other industries across the country oppose the waters of the United States rule for fear it will expand EPA's regulatory reach to waters they contend never were considered to be jurisdictional before. (DTN file photo by Chris Clayton)

OMAHA (DTN) -- Iowa Republican Gov. Terry Branstad along with other state officials have intervened in a federal case involving 13 states' attempts to stop the waters of the United States rule, according to a news release Tuesday. This marks the first time one of the nation's most productive agriculture-based states in the country has become involved in the legal proceedings.

So far, the state's Democratic Attorney General Tom Miller has declined to join the fight against the rule.

Branstad, along with Republicans Lieutenant Gov. Kim Reynolds and Iowa Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey, filed a motion this week to intervene in the case in the U.S. District Court for the Southwestern District of North Dakota.

The Iowa politicians join 13 states that so far have been successful in thwarting the implementation of the rule, which agriculture and other industries and states have called an overreach by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

A national injunction remains in place stopping enforcement of the new rule pending the resolution of legal challenges to the rule in the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, Ohio. So far, both the Sixth Circuit and the North Dakota district court have indicated the new rule may be in legal jeopardy.

The Iowa officials join governors and state attorneys general from North Dakota, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, South Dakota, Wyoming and New Mexico in the district court case.

Nationally, governors or attorneys general from more than 30 states have taken legal action against EPA. Those states have argued their state-based regulations and water quality initiatives have been effective in protecting waters.

"The WOTUS rule is a federal overreach that imposes significant barriers and impairs Iowa's ability to advance innovative, water quality practices that would actually advance our common goal of water quality," Branstad said in a statement. "I ran for governor in 2010 to return predictability and stability to Iowa and this federal rule increases, rather than decreases, uncertainty for Iowa farmers and small businesses."

In October 2014, Branstad, Reynolds, Northey and various other state leaders issued public comments on what was then a proposed rule. In the public comments, those officials said they opposed the rule for fear it was designed more to expand regulatory reach than to improve water quality.

Northey said the rule has created more uncertainty in agriculture at a time when certainty is needed.

"The misguided WOTUS rulemaking process has created uncertainty and has threatened to impede our efforts to get conservation and water quality practices on the ground," he said in a statement. "Joining this lawsuit is the right thing to do, and I hope that ultimately the courts will overturn the rule."

The Iowa officials have joined the waters of the United States lawsuit at a time when the state's voluntary nutrient reduction strategy is facing fire in a lawsuit filed by Des Moines Water Works against several water drainage districts in the Raccoon River watershed. DMWW has filed suit to force those districts to set regulations designed to reduce nutrient runoff into drinking source waters.

"The rule is an overreach by the federal government that hurts Iowa farmers and small businesses," Reynolds said in a news release. "I applaud the work Sens. (Charles) Grassley and (Joni) Ernst, and other members of the Iowa congressional delegation and hope this rule is withdrawn so Iowa can continue to improve water quality through the collaborative and innovative nutrient reduction strategy."

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Todd Neeley