EPA, Andrew Wheeler, and WOTUS

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Andrew Wheeler, the acting EPA Administrator, looks to be on track to be approved as the permanent Administrator. AmericanHort recently joined a group of 30+ organizations to urge the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee to quickly confirm his nomination. Wheeler’s experience as a career EPA employee and time spent as staff director and legal counsel of the Senate committee with the most expansive jurisdiction over EPA qualify him for this important role. Once confirmed by the Committee, the full Senate will then consider the nomination. 

Earlier this month, Wheeler visited McCorkle Nurseries, Dearing, GA, where he promoted, among other things, EPA’s latest efforts to redefine the Waters of the US (WOTUS) rule. McCorkle Nursery, like many other production facilities, struggled to understand and comply with the previous WOTUS definition and welcomes the proposed changes. “The irrigation ditches here, under the rule that is going away…could be a water of the U.S.,” McCorkle told The Augusta Chronicle. “If we had to get federal permits to grade out our ditches, to do anything related to our ponds or impoundments, it’s unnecessary, unneeded bureaucracy.”  McCorkle Nursery is an AmericanHort premium member, and Chris McCorkle serves on the AmericanHort board of directors.  

Following Wheeler’s appearance, EPA announced the publication of the new proposed definition in the Federal Register. Under the proposed rule, EPA and the Corps would consider the following to be waters of the US:

  • Traditional navigable waters such as oceans and rivers and the territorial seas; 
  • Tributaries that contribute perennial or intermittent flow to such waters; 
  • Certain ditches, lakes and ponds; 
  • Impoundments of otherwise jurisdictional waters; and 
  • Wetlands adjacent (direct hydrological surface connection) to other jurisdictional waters.

Under these changes, we expect the following:

  • Fewer ditches will be considered under jurisdiction of the rule; especially those with ephemeral flow would be excluded. 
  • Fewer lakes and ponds will be jurisdictional; specifically, isolated, non-navigable lakes and ponds will be excluded. 
  • One other noticeable difference is that the definition of adjacent wetlands has become more limited, thereby making fewer wetlands qualify as jurisdictional.

A public hearing on the proposed rules will be held February 27-28 in Kansas City, KS. The EPA will accept public comments for 60 days. 

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