DES MOINES — Farmers, builders and landowners soon will have more clarity regarding what small water bodies can be monitored for pollution by the federal government.
That’s the goal of Scott Pruitt, administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, that is in the midst of changing a federal rule that some viewed as government overreach.
Pruitt was in Des Moines on Tuesday as part of a 25-state tour. During his Iowa stop, he appeared at a roundtable discussion with Gov. Kim Reynolds, Iowa agriculture secretary Bill Northey, U.S. Sens. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst, and leaders with the Iowa Farm Bureau.
During an interview Tuesday morning before the event, Pruitt talked about the EPA's effort under Republican President Donald Trump to rewrite a water regulation rule created in 2015 under Democratic President Barack Obama.
Critics of the “Waters of the U.S.” rule say it gives the federal government too much power to regulate small water bodies, including puddles on ditches on farm land and construction sites.
Pruitt said rewriting the rule will provide clarity.
“Farmers and ranchers, those who build subdivisions, land use across the country was subjected to great uncertainty because they didn’t know where federal jurisdiction began and ended,” said Pruitt, who sued the EPA more than a dozen times while serving as Oklahoma’s attorney general. He called the rule a “power grab.”
Pruitt said one element of his 25-state tour is to seek input from stakeholders. He said the new rule will be “objectively measured and traditional in its view of how we should measure waters of the U.S.”
Like those who protest government regulation of farms and businesses that produce pollution that can get into ponds, lakes, rivers and streams, Pruitt said farmers and other landowners have a natural incentive to maintain healthy water and environment.
“People presume that by withdrawing the old rule and providing a substitute definition that there’s going to be a dearth of regulation or a dearth of oversight with respect to water quality,” Pruitt said. “One of the things that we’ve got to keep in mind is that farmers and ranchers, as an example, are our first conservationists and environmentalists. The greatest asset they have is the land. ...
“And I think this concept in Washington, D.C. — that drives bureaucrats, at times they look across the country and they say, ‘We can’t trust farmers and ranchers in Iowa, and we can’t trust those that are engaged in industry in the state of Iowa,’ — is absolutely misplaced. Because industry and farmers and ranchers and landowners in the state care about their own land. They’re going to take steps to ensure that they are being good stewards for future generations.”
Pruitt also addressed the federal Renewable Fuel Standard, which dictates how much ethanol and other alternative fuels must be mixed in the nation’s fuel supply.
There is strong support for the RFS in Iowa, driven by the state’s corn producers.
Earlier this year the EPA announced the program would sustain the amount of corn-based ethanol in the fuel supply, but reduce the portion of biofuels.
“There are competing interests across the spectrum with respect to the RFS,” Pruitt said. “As we publish those (fuel levels), we’re looking at production and we’re looking at market demand. And I think that is the most objective way to measure what those volume obligations should be.”