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Joni E.
Republican IA

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  • Department of Defense Appropriations Act, 2016—Motion to Proceed

    by Senator Joni Ernst

    Posted on 2015-11-03

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    ERNST. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the order for the quorum call be rescinded.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

    Waters of the United States Rule Mrs. ERNST. Mr. President, I rise today to talk about this ill- conceived and harmful waters of the United States rule--better known as WOTUS--and how its implementation threatens the livelihoods of many of my fellow Iowans.

    As the Presiding Officer knows, recent court decisions have forced this rule--EPA's latest power grab--to come to a screeching halt across the country because of the likelihood that EPA has overstepped its authority. To be clear, it is not just me saying that; it is the court.

    As my colleague and friend, the senior Senator from Iowa, Chuck Grassley, often says, Washington is an island surrounded by reality. There is not a more perfect phrase to describe how the events and processes have unfolded surrounding this confusing rule. Only in Washington do unelected bureaucrats take 300 pages to simplify and provide clarity. This rule is so complex and so ambiguous that folks in my State are concerned that any low spot on a farmer's field or a ditch or a puddle after a rainstorm may now fall under the EPA's watch.

    We all want clean water and clean air. That is not disputable. Time and again, I have emphasized that the air we breathe and the water we drink need to be clean and safe. Statements suggesting otherwise cannot be further from the truth. It is unfortunate that the EPA continues to fuel that line of false attack through their election-style tactics and controversial lobbying efforts on social media.

    This rule and this debate are not about clean water. The heart of this debate is about how much authority the Federal Government and unelected bureaucrats should have to regulate what is done on private land.

    You can see the map behind me. Look at my State of Iowa. This rule would give the EPA extensive power to regulate water on 97 percent of the land in the State of Iowa--97 percent. If you compare that to Iowa's Federal land percentage in acreage of 0.3 percent, it is quite a shift in the current makeup of Federal authority over the land in Iowa.

    I spent the weekend going back through letters my fellow Iowans have sent me on this issue. So many of them are frustrated with the lack of common sense coming out of Washington. They are taking this issue personally because their livelihood depends on it. Many of the letters I get are from farmers who spend their days working land that has been in their families for generations, some going back over 100 years. They have an incentive to take care of their land and conserve it for future generations. Caring for the land and conserving is a way of life in the heartland. It is as if the EPA turns a blind eye to that fact.

    One Iowan wrote: This proposed rule is so vague, long, and very unclear, that I feel they are wanting farmers to fail so a large fine can be assessed. Why am I taking this so personal? Because for me and my family, we live off this land. If we don't take care of it, it will not take care of us. So I will do whatever I can to protect this land and water for my children. My family lives on well water. My cattle drink from the same wells. I don't want either to get sick.

    That is what one Iowan wrote. I believe the same exactly.

    This rule would give EPA the authority to expand its power over family farms, small businesses, ranches, and other landowners in our rural community. Iowans are so concerned about this rule because they know it will actually create a negative impact on conservation and it is contradictory to the commonsense and voluntary work that is taking place in communities across Iowa today.

    In Iowa, we have had a State-level clean water initiative in place for several years now. It is a partnership between the State legislature, the Department of Natural Resources, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, Iowa State University, and a myriad of stakeholders across the State.

    The voluntary Nutrient Reduction Strategy is based on extensive research and provides a path forward for conservation efforts that individual farmers can pursue with matching funds from the State. This science-based approach provides incentives for farmers and other landowners to make sustainable decisions on their own land rather than be forced to adhere to a one-size-fits-all regulation that would do far more harm than good. A farm in Iowa is not the same as one in Montana, and the rolling plains of Texas are very different from the hills and valleys of [[Page S7702]] Pennsylvania. This is simply one more reason this WOTUS rule is the wrong approach. A one-size-fits-all solution from inside the beltway could have disastrous effects nationwide.

    As I mentioned, I have heard from constituents across the State of Iowa who have grave concerns with the ambiguity of this rule. They are holding off on making conservation improvements to their land for fear of being later found out of compliance with this WOTUS rule and facing significant fines. Maybe it is because we are so ``Iowa nice'' that we are inclined to work together collaboratively rather than simply issuing more onerous regulations.

    Take the Middle Cedar Partnership, for example. This project in Eastern Iowa uses local dollars and State funding, coupled with Federal grants from the USDA, to organize and advocate for land practices that improve water quality downstream. The coalition is made up of city, county, and State officials, businesspeople, farmers, environmentalists, and other concerned citizens. Together they are making meaningful progress on multiple watershed projects within the Cedar River basin and sharing what they have learned. This approach is now being adopted by other municipalities within the State.

    Contrary to what some claim, Iowa has done all of this on its own, not at the behest of the EPA. In fact, the EPA has asked the leaders of Iowa's efforts to come to DC and explain how they are able to get such grassroots buy-in on voluntary conservation projects and programs. The other States in the Mississippi River Basin look to Iowa as a leader on water quality and are modeling their own State-level efforts after ours in the State of Iowa. While there are clear indications that this WOTUS rule is illegal and likely to be scrapped by the courts, that process could take years to play out--and all at the expense of the average American.

    Let's not wait around for the inevitable and force our small farmers and businesses to operate in the dark while they wait. Let's fix this now and give American families the certainty they deserve. We can do that by passing the legislation before us.

    I have led the charge in the Senate on this joint resolution of disapproval which would scrap the rule entirely. My legislation is the necessary next step in pushing back against this blatant power grab by the EPA. We will send this to the President, and he will be forced to decide between the livelihood of our rural communities nationwide and his unchecked Federal agency.

    I also voted for S. 1140, which provides the EPA with clear principles and directions on how best to craft a waters of the United States rule. It spells out steps they should have taken prior to finalizing this rule to guarantee they can take into consideration the thoughtful comments from folks such as farmers, ranchers, small businesses, and manufacturers. Congress is acting because it is evident that the EPA did not seriously consider the comments and perspective from those whom this rule will directly impact, and it is clear they are far outside the bounds of the congressional intent of the Clean Water Act.

    Iowa is bounded by rivers. The very shape of our State is dictated by the mighty Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. Take one look at commerce and recreation happening on them, and it is easy to see why these are considered navigable waters. When Congress passed the Clean Water Act, this was the type of water it intended to protect, not a grass waterway running across a farmer's field or a ditch bordering it. This rule ignores congressional intent and is nothing more than a power grab by the EPA.

    The EPA continues to run roughshod over Iowans, acting as if they are a legislative body--something they have no business doing. It is no wonder they have lost the trust of the American people and many in Congress. Every community wants clean water and to protect our Nation's waterways, but we simply cannot allow mounting, unnecessary regulations to overwhelm the commonsense voice of hard-working Americans, especially when they are not based on sound science. Again, it is not just me saying that, the courts and the Army Corps have both called the EPA on their shaky data, or lack thereof. Yet unelected bureaucrats remained committed to making a political decision instead of the right decision.

    As Iowa's U.S. Senator, it is my responsibility to speak for the folks I represent and hold the Federal Government accountable when it is clear they have gone too far. And make no mistake--they have here.

    With that, I yield the floor.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Missouri.

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