The U.S. Senate last week passed a resolution introduced by Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst that is designed to kill the Obama administration’s controversial Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule. But earlier in the week, WOTUS opponents in the Senate weren’t able to gain a 60-vote supermajority needed to move a measure similar to the House-passed bill to ditch the rule.

Ernst’s successful resolution to scrap WOTUS, which by Senate rules needed only a simple majority, passed on a 53-44 bipartisan vote. The resolution now goes to the House and, if passed, to President Barack Obama, who has threatened to veto it.

"Today’s passage to scrap the expanded WOTUS rule is a major win for our hardworking farmers, ranchers, manufacturers and small businesses who are continuously ignored by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency)," Ernst said. "It is abundantly clear that the WOTUS rule is ill-conceived and breeds uncertainty, confusion and more red tape that threatens the livelihoods of many in Iowa and across the country."

Forcing Obama to chose

With the resolution to ditch WOTUS, Ernst said, "President Obama will ultimately be forced to decide between an unchecked federal agency or the livelihoods of our rural communities who say this overreaching WOTUS rule must be stopped."

Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley has also been a strong opponent of WOTUS. "WOTUS is a massive power grab by EPA," Grassley said. "This was clearly an effort by a bloated federal agency to push its own agenda." 

Grassley added that the EPA ignored legitimate concerns about WOTUS during the public comment.

"From the very beginning, this attempt by the EPA has been a disaster," said Craig Hill, president of the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation. "It fails to recognize understandable limits placed in the 1972 Clean Water Act (CWA) by Congress. It creates new ambiguous definitions never used before. And it creates a situation where farmers will never know with any certainty whether they are operating legally or not."

Hill also praised Iowa’s senators for their continuing work to oppose WOTUS. "We are so pleased to have elected representatives in Congress like Sen. Ernst and Sen. Grassley fighting for us."

Implementation of the WOTUS rule has already been temporarily blocked in all 50 states by a ruling last month in the U.S. Appeals Court for the Sixth Circuit. An earlier court ruling in North Dakota had blocked implementation of the rule in only 13 states, which did not include Iowa.

Iowa Farm Bureau Federation (IFBF) and many other organizations have worked hard to stop the WOTUS rule since it was first released in early 2014. The rule, the EPA said, would clarify the definition of what is considered a "water of the United States" and is subject to federal regulation under the CWA.

But IFBF and others contend the rule has only added ambiguity, leaving farmers facing the potential of delays, red tape and steep fines as they complete normal farm operations, such as fertilizing, applying crop protection chemicals or moving dirt to build conservation structures.

Implementation halted

While the courts have temporarily stopped the EPA from implementing the WOTUS rule, Farm Bureau and other opponents pushed legislation to force the agency to restart the process and take landowners’ concerns into the consideration. That effort passed the House, but a similar bill in the Senate last week came three votes short of gaining the 60 votes needed to advance.

Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, said he was disappointed that WOTUS opponents in the Senate weren’t able to reach a supermajority to move the House-passed measure forward. But he thanked the lawmakers who supported that bill, as well as the resolution led by Iowa Sen. Ernst.

"While we are disappointed in today’s vote, we know this issue will remain a critical one for America’s farmers and ranchers, and we will continue our fight to protect them from federal regulatory overreach," Stallman said.