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Rounds Leads Legislation to Address Federal Government Overreach on South Dakota Farmers, Ranchers and Landowners

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) introduced legislation to address federal overreach and provide regulatory certainty to South Dakota farmers, ranchers and landowners. The Farmers Freedom Act of 2023 would protect the definition of prior converted cropland (PCC) in the Biden administration’s most recent Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule.

The Farmers Freedom Act of 2023 is cosponsored by Senators John Thune (R-S.D.), Pete Ricketts (R-Neb.), Roger Marshall (R-Kan.), Mike Braun (R-Ind.), John Hoeven (R-N.D.), John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) and Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.).

“For far too long, South Dakota producers have been subject to a number of complex and burdensome WOTUS rule changes,” said Rounds. “While past administrations have issued problematic WOTUS rules, the previous Navigable Waters Protection Rule (NWPR) worked to protect owners of prior converted cropland from undue regulation while providing producers with needed flexibility. This legislation seeks to restore this definition of PCC and prevent further overreach on South Dakota farmers and ranchers, who know their land better than any D.C. bureaucrats.”

“The Biden administration continues to burden American agriculture with onerous rules,” said Ricketts. “Producers need relief, not regulation. I’m pleased to support this effort to bring certainty to landowners and prevent more big government overreach.”

“Since coming to Congress, I have worked to protect our farmers from the reckless overreach of the Biden Administration and its misaligned use of WOTUS,” said Marshall. “While I’m disappointed to see this Administration defy the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on the issue, we cannot give up our fight to protect our landowners from more red tape and burdensome regulations. We must provide certainty to close loopholes that can and will be abused by the EPA in its attempt to regulate every pond, stream and puddle.”

“Farmers supported President Trump’s definition of WOTUS because it gave them clear protections for prior converted cropland,” said Braun. “I am proud to cosponsor the Farmers Freedom Act, which reinstates the Trump-era protections and gives farmers much-needed peace of mind.”

“Landowners need more freedom to use their land as they see fit without excessive, burdensome environmental regulations,” said Cramer. “The Biden administration is deferring to a loosely-defined and arbitrary definition for prior converted croplands which creates uncertainty for landowners, especially those in the Prairie Pothole region. Our producers will always be better caretakers of the land than federal bureaucrats in Washington, and the administration should acknowledge it.”

For the last several decades, wetlands converted to cropland before 1985 have remained exempt from WOTUS regulation. Under the Biden administration’s rule, previously-converted cropland could revert to a wetland status if it is unavailable for commodity production. Specifically, if a section of PCC floods and is unable to produce commodities, it could be subject to regulation under the authority of the Clean Water Act.

The Farmers Freedom Act of 2023 is supported by the South Dakota Farm Bureau and the American Farm Bureau.

“Unfortunately, the definition of prior converted cropland (PCC) in the latest WOTUS rule will only contribute to further uncertainty for producers,” said South Dakota Farm Bureau President Scott VanderWal. “I thank Senator Rounds for introducing legislation to address this problematic piece in the latest reiteration of WOTUS.”

“Farmers take seriously the responsibility for properly caring for the land they’ve been entrusted with,” said Courtney Briggs, American Farm Bureau’s Senior Director of Government Affairs. “The current rules surrounding prior converted cropland make it difficult for farmers to ensure they are making the best use of their land while protecting the environment. We appreciate Sen. Rounds for working to bring clarity to the PCC exclusion.”

BACKGROUND:

  • For the last several decades, wetlands that were drained to be cropland prior to 1985 have remained exempt from regulation under the Clean Water Act.
  • In 2015, the Obama administration finalized a rule that expanded the definition of WOTUS, creating confusion and burdensome red tape, especially for South Dakota’s agricultural communities.
  • The Trump administration released a proposed rule to replace the 2015 WOTUS rule with a new one that provided much-needed predictability and certainty for farmers by establishing clear and reasonable definitions of what qualifies as a “water of the United States.” The Navigable Waters Protection Rule (NWPR) was finalized in 2020.
  • The NWPR clarified the rules governing PCC, protecting impacted land from Clean Water Act regulation as long it was used for agricultural purposes once every five years.
  • On day one of his administration, President Biden signed an executive order to begin the process of rolling back the Trump administration’s NWPR.
  • In December 2022, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a new rule repealing the NWPR and changing the definition of WOTUS in a way that will expand federal regulatory authority.
  • The Biden administration’s WOTUS rule also tightened the regulations guiding PCC, allowing the federal government to end the exemption for such land immediately upon a change in use.
  • In May 2023, the Supreme Court issued a decision in Sackett v. Environmental Protection Agency that overturned the previous 2022 WOTUS rule.
  • In August 2023, the EPA issued a new iteration of the WOTUS rule with changes after Sackett, which retained the problematic definition of PCC.
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