One of the great challenges of covering the conservation beat is trying to help sportsmen separate fact from fiction. Long before President Trump added “fake news” to the lexicon, it was alive and well in environmental debates. The internet has been fake news’ greatest catalyst, with interest groups on both sides of every issue using it to shout their points of view—often without the facts to support them.
Which brings us to the Trump Administration’s decision to begin the process to repeal the Waters of the U.S. Rule (WOTUS), also known as the Clean Water Rule. Readers of the Conservationist will likely be familiar with the rule and know of its vital importance to fish, wildlife, human health, and our sporting traditions, but here’s a mini-review, just in case:
The rule finally returned some protections to 20 million acres of wetlands and tributary creeks removed by court rulings almost 20 years ago.
It brought much-needed clarity to the confusion about Clean Water Act protections those court rulings created.
It was approved after a year-long process that drew more than 1 million public comments, the vast majority of which were in favor of the rule.
It was supported by more than 2,000 research papers.
It was supported by every major sportsmen’s conservation group in the nation.
The rule is opposed, unsurprisingly, by developers, some in the agricultural industry, and a legion of politicians who think the government should not be able to protect the public by deciding what they can do on their property—even if it causes damage beyond their fences.
The announcement to roll back WOTUS, in March, was applauded by these same politicians, with the usual bromides about freedom, regulation of ditches and farm ponds, and all manner of government overreach.
But the facts say something else entirely. The best person to explain WOTUS and what its regulations mean is someone who actually has an intimate knowledge of the rule. That person is William Andreen, a professor at University of Alabama School of Law and an expert on environmental policy. His paper “A Baker’s Dozen of False Memes About the Clean Water Act and the Waters of the United States Rulemaking” is a must-read for all sportsmen who care about the future of hunting and fishing. We have the responsibility to know what WOTUS actually entails when the local talk-radio station and politicians curse it or try to make into a partisan issue. The paper is footnoted with references corroborating Andreen’s points, and it can help educate your friends and hunting-camp partners about what the rule is all about.
Among the common slurs against WOTUS Andreen dispels:
The Clean Water Rule is so extreme that it would even regulate a puddle in your backyard. Not true.
The rule just adds another layer of red tape for activities that are already regulated by state and local governments. Not true.
The rule imposes new burdens on American agriculture—even ordinary fieldwork or planting might require a permit. Not true.
But farm ponds are regulated. Not true.
Well, then, even ditches are regulated. Not true.
Well, I still believe that it regulates gullies. Not true.
The rule goes so far as to regulate groundwater. Not true.
This rule is going to make life hard for cities and towns because it is going to adversely affect their ability to operate and maintain their stormwater collection systems. Not true.
The Clean Water Act has been a regulatory fiasco. Not true.
Well, at least the dredge-and-fill program administered by the Army Corps of Engineers has been a mess. Not true.
The regulatory programs under the Clean Water Act are a huge drag on our economy and make our nation less competitive when compared with our trading partners. Not true.
The states were doing just fine with water-pollution control before the federal government and EPA interfered. Not true.
Well, since we’ve made so much progress and basically solved the problem, we can now quit expending so much effort and money on water pollution. Not true.
Those are the facts about WOTUS. Please, take the time to read the full paper, which goes into detail about each point.
Let your congressional delegations know that you have the truth—and that you’re watching their votes.