Weekly Columns

Arkansas agricultural producers feed and clothe the world. They need certainty and predictability in order to successfully operate their businesses, but too often federal regulations place unnecessary burdens on the industry. What our state’s farmers and ranchers want are simple, commonsense rules that are easy to understand so they can comply with the law and be good stewards of their land. 

In a recent Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW) hearing, my colleagues and I examined how one particular regulation –  known as the Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule –  has caused hardships for farmers and ranchers.

An interpretation by the previous administration told agriculture producers that their ditches, ponds and puddles are navigable waters. This put Washington in control of almost every body of water in Arkansas. 

This definition resulted in inconsistent implementation and undue burdens falling on the agriculture community. 

For example, farmers were told that they would not be subject to the WOTUS rule unless they were performing a new farming activity; any continued farming would be exempted. However, a Senate report conducted by the Senate EPW Committee found examples proving this is not the case.  

In 2015, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) told a landowner that changing the use of a field from growing alfalfa to orchards would constitute a land use change that would allow Corps regulators to pursue enforcement action if plowing the field to plant trees involved a discharge to wetlands. The Corps regulator informed the landowner that despite an extensive farming history, orchards were never planted on the ranch so they are not the same kind of farming and might not be considered a normal farming activity. 

Arkansas agricultural producers understand this is a common practice. When federal regulations prevent a farmer from engaging in sensible crop rotation and land management, that ultimately hurts their ability to properly manage their land.   

That’s why I fought against the broad interpretation and encouraged the Trump administration to redefine the WOTUS rule. 

Within a month after taking office, President Trump issued an executive order directing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Corps to review and revise the WOTUS rule. Last December, the administration proposed new rules that would provide more regulatory certainty to agricultural producers and all landowners.  

I am encouraged by the proposed rule that rolls back the Obama-era policy and establishes reasonable definitions that are clear and consistent. 

The June hearing was the first the EPW committee convened on WOTUS since the Trump administration published its definition of the rule. Providing an opportunity for stakeholders to share their input on the proposed rule will help ensure the regulation will protect our water while simultaneously providing regulatory certainty. I will be closely following the rulemaking process to make sure there are no unintended consequences for landowners.