Nebraska Gov. Ricketts criticizes new federal water rule

By GRANT SCHULTE

Associated Press

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts blasted a new Obama administration rule on Wednesday that gives federal authorities the power to regulate more streams, tributaries and wetlands.

Ricketts called the rule “terrible” during a news conference at the Capitol with a farm industry leader, water regulators and a representative for the state’s golf courses. Nebraska is one of 13 states challenging the law in federal court.

“We know it’s important to make sure we have the water resources to be able to grow our state,’’ Ricketts said. “We take that very seriously. We don’t need the EPA looking over the shoulders of our farmers, ranchers and our companies.”

The waters affected would be only those with a “direct and significant” connection to larger bodies of water downstream that are already protected, the EPA has said, and that the aim is to protect the waters from pollution and development and to safeguard drinking water. The rule goes into effect on Aug. 28.

Opponents have formed a coalition, Common Sense Nebraska, which includes 30 groups representing agriculture, business and local governments. The groups say the rule weakens local control of water and could impose costly and time-consuming permitting requirements on land owners.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers announced the rule in May in response to calls from the U.S. Supreme Court and Congress to clarify which waterways are protected under the federal Clean Water Act.

A spokesman for the EPA’s regional office in Lenexa, Kansas, declined to comment on the lawsuit but issued a statement saying the rule was grounded in law and the latest science.

“About 117 million Americans - one in three people - get drinking water from streams that lacked clear protection before the rule,” the statement said. “The rule will ensure that these waters are more precisely defined and predictably determined, making permitting less costly, easier, and faster for businesses and industry, including agriculture.”

Republicans in Congress, including Nebraska Sens. Deb Fischer and Ben Sasse and Rep. Adrian Smith, have endorsed legislation to block the rules. Democratic U.S. Rep. Brad Ashford of Omaha criticized the rules as a “one size fits all” approach to federal water policy.

Nebraska Farm Bureau President Steve Nelson said his group suggested changes to the agency throughout the federal rule-making process, but his concerns weren’t addressed in the final version. His group is worried the rule would impose costly permitting requirements on farmers and would create delays that prevent them from planting crops in a timely manner.

“The expense is extraordinary, and it would fall on that individual,” Nelson said.

Dean Edson, executive director of the Nebraska Association of Resources Districts, said some permits in the past have cost as much as $100,000 and taken 18 months to process. Edson’s group represents Nebraska’s natural resources districts, which regulate water usage in specific regions of the state.

Edson said farmers who want to repair their property after a flood or dig holes for new fence posts could fall under the permitting requirements.

“This rule is not about water quality,” he said. “This is about federal control over waters of states.”

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