Senators Pete Ricketts (R-NE) and Mike Rounds (R-SD) recently introduced the Farmer’s Freedom Act of 2023. The Farmer’s Freedom Act was written in response to governmental overreach in the latest Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule written by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA had rewritten the rules in response to the Supreme Court (SCOTUS) decision in Sackett vs. EPA, which clarified the definition of navigable Waters of the United States. This stripped EPA control over unconnected wet areas, like livestock ponds and vernal pools (mud puddles) that can form in the low spots in pastures and fields after a rain.
The legislation is designed to offer regulatory certainty to farmers, ranchers, and landowners by safeguarding the definition of prior converted cropland (PCC). Wetlands converted to cropland before 1985, have historically been exempt from WOTUS regulation. The EPA’s new WOTUS rule alters this exemption, potentially categorizing PCC as wetlands if it becomes unsuitable for commodity production or is used for non-agricultural purposes.
Senator Rounds pointed out the historical challenges faced by South Dakota producers due to complex WOTUS rule changes. He emphasized the importance of restoring the definition of PCC, as established by the previous Navigable Waters Protection Rule (NWPR), which provided protections for owners of prior converted cropland while granting producers necessary flexibility.
Senator Ricketts has long fought against attempts to expand WOTUS. He expressed his concern about the latest rulemaking by the EPA, stating, “The …administration continues to burden American agriculture with onerous rules. Producers need relief, not regulation. I’m pleased to support this effort to bring certainty to landowners and prevent more big government overreach.”
The Farmers Freedom Act of 2023 has garnered support from other senators as well, including John Thune (R-SD), Roger Marshall (R-KS), Mike Braun (R-IN), John Hoeven (R-ND), John Barrasso (R-WY), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), and Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS).