WOTUS Comment Deadline Extended

Public Comment Period on Proposed Change to WOTUS Rule Extended to Sept. 27

Todd Neeley
By  Todd Neeley , DTN Staff Reporter
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EPA on Thursday announced an extension has been granted on a public comment period on a proposed change to the waters of the United States, or WOTUS, rule. (Graphic courtesy of EPA)

OMAHA (DTN) -- The federal government has extended the public comment period on a waters of the United States, or WOTUS, rule that would revert the definition of navigable waters to the pre-2015 regulation.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers made the announcement in a statement on the EPA website on Thursday, providing an additional 30 days to receive comments. The deadline has been extended from Aug. 28 to Sept. 27.

The proposed interim rule came about as a result of President Donald Trump's Feb. 28, 2017, executive order calling for a review of the WOTUS rule that is the subject of many lawsuits. The U.S. Supreme Court is slated to consider a legal challenge regarding which court is the proper venue to consider those cases.

Agriculture, other industry groups and state governments across the country alleged the Obama administration's WOTUS rule expanded federal jurisdiction to waters not traditionally protected by the Clean Water Act. Even prior to the completion of the 2015 WOTUS rule, farmers and ranchers faced uncertainty as to which waters were considered jurisdictional. So far, neither Congress nor the EPA has been able to make the law more understandable.

In a July 17, 2017, letter to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and Douglas Lamont, deputy assistant secretary of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, a group of 22 senators asked the agencies to extend the comment period.

As of Thursday, EPA had received 26,703 public comments. Of those comments, 1,307 have been posted to regulations.gov.

The agency announced it would attempt to better define "navigable waters" in what is expected to be a two-part effort. The current proposal would revert the rule to pre-2015, before the EPA finalized the WOTUS rule.

The second part of the agency's plan includes then re-writing the rule. As part of that effort, the agency already has reached out to governors in all 50 states to seek input.

Interestingly, the senators asked the agency to extend the comment period by 90 days as it did for the 2015 WOTUS rule, although the current proposal essentially changes nothing in terms of how the Clean Water Act currently is enforced. The WOTUS rule is on a stay nationally, pending lawsuits. This means enforcement of the CWA already has reverted to the pre-2015 regulation.

The letter to the EPA and Corps seeking an extension on the comment period was signed by Democratic Senators Tom Carper, Del.; Edward J. Markey, Mass.; Cory Booker, N.J.; Christopher Van Hollen, Md.; Richard Durbin, Ill.; Margaret Wood Hassan, N.H.; Robert P. Casey, Jr., Pa.; Ben Cardin, Md.; Sheldon Whitehouse, R.I.; Tom Udall, N.M.; Jeffrey Merkley, Oregon; Jeanne Shaheen, N.H.; Tammy Baldwin, Wis.; Elizabeth Warren, Mass.; Patty Murray, Wash.; Gary Peters, Mich.; Kamala Harris, Calif.; Tammy Duckworth, Ill.; Jack Reed, R.I.; Maria Cantwell, Wash.; Robert Menendez, N.J.; and Dianne Feinstein, Calif.

EPA Administrator Pruitt has been holding a series of closed-door meetings with agriculture interest groups, state and federal government representatives and others across the country.

The EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have launched a process that includes "deliberations and outreach" as part of revisiting the rule. The EPA, for example, has asked for input from governors across the country.

Read the EPA public comment period extension here: http://bit.ly/…

Todd Neeley can be reached at todd.neeley@dtn.com

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Todd Neeley