EPA, cattle advocates butt heads on proposed Waters of the US rule

There are definitely two sides when it comes to the controversial Waters of the U.S. rule change proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency. That was made clear Saturday in Dickinson at the North Dakota Stockmen's Association Convention and ...

Allison Wiedeman
Allison Wiedeman of the Environmental Protection Agency speaks Saturday at the North Dakota Stockmen's Association Conventional and Trade Show in Dickinson. (April Baumgarten/Forum News Service)

There are definitely two sides when it comes to the controversial Waters of the U.S. rule change proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency.

That was made clear Saturday in Dickinson at the North Dakota Stockmen's Association Convention and Trade Show. Representatives presented contradicting arguments to the rule change, also known as WOTUS. Allison Wiedeman, acting agriculture counselor to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, said claims that the rule is a power grab are false.

"When the Waters of the U.S. rule is all said and done, and it gets implemented, we need to have a rule that we can work with you and can continue to work with you," she said, adding the rule change is meant to clarify the Clean Water Act.

But the Stockmen's Association and the National Cattlemen's Beef Association have taken a stance against the rule, stating it is an overreach of power and deceptive.

"We, too, support clean water, but the WOTUS proposed rule is an overreach and it lacks the intent of what is being described to us," said Kristina Butts, executive director of government affairs for the NCBA.


EPA officials have claimed the rule is meant to clarify what it has jurisdiction over, which would be navigable waters. A public outcry and Supreme Court rulings have told the agency it needs to make the rule easier to understand.

Wiedeman said the rule has been interpreted differently across the country.

"EPA has to follow suit with what the Supreme Court says," she said. "The Supreme Court is the law of the land."

A Stockmen's Association member later said, "the Supreme Court is not law of the land; the U.S. Constitution is the law of the land," a comment that drew applause from the crowd of more than 50 people.


The two sides presented their arguments, stating there are misconceptions for and against the rule.

Butts handed out cards to the crowd with the words "EPA Land Grab," which asked ranchers to comment on the rule at The back of the card said the rule would expand federal jurisdiction to nearly all waters, require ranchers to obtain costly permits and threaten fines of up to $37,500.

Wiedeman denied these claims, saying the rule was not changing but getting clarification. She gave an example of farmland that was in a floodplain. If the land was flooded, the EPA would not have jurisdiction over that land, she said.


"What EPA has intended to do with this rule is, if you don't need a permit now, you don't need one when the rule is final," she told the ranchers in the room.

Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., who spoke at the convention, said the rule would violate private property rights.

"They are extending their authority way beyond what the law allows, and they are not doing it pursuant to any congressional law," Hoeven said, adding if the EPA can give exceptions to producers, it can also take them away.

"The fundamental problem is that they are saying they have that authority to make that decision," he said.

Hoeven criticized the rule because ranchers would not know what water would be covered under the rule and that the EPA could, in theory, claim it has jurisdiction over any water that flows into navigable streams.

"They are still going to do what they want to do, and they can change it at anytime," he said. "I think that is what creates that concern and mistrust."

Wiedeman also mentioned U.S. Geological Survey maps that showed watersheds across the country. The maps were released by Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D.

Cramer, Hoeven and Butts said the maps would be used to determine EPA jurisdiction.


Wiedeman said the lines showing waterways were not to scale and could not be used to determine jurisdiction over navigable waters. The EPA claimed the maps have been in place for almost a decade and were not made to determine where navigable waters flow.

"You think that it is credible that they are drawing these maps and that they are using them right now and, all of the sudden, they say, 'Oh, we are not going to look at them or rely on those maps?'" Hoeven asked. "It's just not credible. They are going to use them. They are already using them."

Hoeven is working on legislation to either deauthorize or defund the rule.

"It is our job to make sure that the law is followed," he said. "That's how you protect the citizens of this county; you make sure the law is followed."

Giving credit for coming to ND

Wiedeman said there is always a tendency to not trust a regulatory agency, but the EPA is trying to work with ranchers to gain that trust.

"With EPA, we have been working to balance that tension and it's a work in progress," Wiedeman said.

Butts and Hoeven said the EPA has made several mistakes to earn the distrust, including leaking the personal information of more than 80,000 livestock producers to environmental groups.


Though Butts wishes the EPA had realized the mistake sooner, she said the agency has been working to regain trust and work with the cattle industry.

"I think it is important to continue to have that open line of communication with them," Butts said.

This was the first time Wiedeman had visited the state, she said. She commended North Dakota for its conservation efforts, stating producers take care of the land not as a result of regulations but because "it is the right thing to do."

"You were protecting the environment before the EPA was telling you to," she said.

Wiedeman added McCarthy has visited North Dakota to listen to concerns on the rule, adding the agency appreciates what producers do to protect the land.

"That's one of the reasons why -- if you have heard her speak on in her speeches on the Waters of the U.S., that she has said over and over again in her speeches -- it has been her intent, and it continues to be her intent, that when the Waters of the U.S. is finalized, it will adhere with what ranchers and farmers do best, which is farm and ranch," Wiedeman said. "Given the public reaction, it appears we have some work to do."

Butts appreciated that EPA officials, like Wiedeman, have been traveling to North Dakota to discuss the rule change and listen to concerns from ranchers. The effort shows the agency wants to work with members of the cattle industry, she added.

"But that doesn't mean we agree with them on the rule change or what their intent is with WOTUS," she said, adding the National Cattlemen's Beef Association would prefer if the rule was scrapped and rewritten.


"The one thing that they need to hear from is that they need to hear from you, the grassroots producers," Butts said.

The deadline to comment is Oct. 20. Residents can also submit comments at

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