Letter to the Editor

Dear Editor,

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Sen. Ernst writes she had a “gut punch” reaction to the Biden Administration’s decision to roll back the Trump Administration WOTUS rule. I also felt a gut punch reaction after reading Ernst’s editorial. 

The core of the controversy is defining “a water of the United States” (WOTUS). How WOTUS is defined determines the need for permits for dredging, dirt fill or pollutant discharges — such as a factory outlet — into the waters of the United States. Since the federal Clean Water Act was passed in 1972, the definition of what constitutes jurisdictional waters has been a work in progress, but one component has always been clear: WOTUS applies to US oceans, major navigable waters, lakes and any connected waterways such as a lake that drains into a river.

What is less clear is the case of wetlands and loosely connected waterways such as intermittent streams that are dry for part of the year.

Ernst says she has been on the “front lines of this issue” since 2015. Well, 2015 is recent history.

After the passage of the federal Clean Water Act in 1972, the first legal protection of wetlands came from President Carter in 1977 when he signed an executive order requiring the federal government to take steps to avoid impacts to wetlands when possible. In 1989 President Bush established the national policy of “No Net Loss” of wetlands.

Still, the definition of wetlands remained ambiguous into the early 2000s, leading to a supreme court case. The origins of the WOTUS rule put into place by the Obama administration in 2015, rescinded by Trump and now being repealed by the Biden administration originally began as an effort to comply with a 2006 US Supreme Court decision written by former Justice Anthony Kennedy — hardly a liberal socialist — who wrote WOTUS is “any water that has a significant nexus to a navigable water is covered by the CWA and subject to protection by the federal government.”

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the US Army Corps of Engineers – the two federal agencies in charge of CWA permits — convened a committee of scientists and stakeholders that included representatives from Iowa State University and issued a 300 page report that formed the basis of the WOTUS rule.

So the rule was hardly arbitrary.

Before the WOTUS rule came up in 2015, agricultural discharges and most other agricultural practices were already exempt from the Clean Water Act. A farmer does not need a permit to farm or drain a wetland on his/her cropland. Bodies of water found on farms such as puddles, ditches, artificial ponds for livestock water and irrigation systems are also exempt.

My gut punch reaction is to Sen. Ernst politicizing clean water and dividing us with misleading information. In fact, where this new WOTUS rule has the biggest impact is not in Iowa but in arid states where, under the Trump rule, nearly 1,500 streams assessed were found to be non-jurisdictional.

And who is behind this? The same interests that are against ethanol — big oil. We need Joni to stand up to Big Oil and protect our farmers and the clean water that is the engine of the Iowa Great Lakes economy.

As my retired navy friend says, we always respect our elected officials even when they are wrong.


Jane Shuttleworth