EPA Administrator says new WOTUS to be finalized by winter

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EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler is the latest cabinet member to visit North Dakota. The first part of his two-day trip focused on Waters of the United States rule.

The EPA is expected to finish up the rule this winter, but Wheeler says it's not going to be an easy fix. Wheeler say he expects the new rule to be challenged in court when it’s finalized.

“As the EPA finishes a new take on the Waters of the United States Rule, the agency's top man says he's got a simple goal for the complex rule.

"A property owner should be able to stand on his or her property and be able to tell for themselves whether or not they have federal water without having to hire an outside consultant or attorney to tell them whether or not they have a federal waterway,” said Wheeler.

The 2015 version of the rule would have made prairie potholes- essential holes in a field that fill up with rain, a federal wetland. Wheeler says for the first time, the federal government will define what is and isn't a wetland that falls under WOTUS protections.

“What cattle men and women are is clear definitions that honor our private property rights and state's rights and creates that certainty,” said Julie Ellingson, North Dakota Stockmen’s Association executive vice president.

"He's bringing an approach where if you own the land, you'll be able to know if you have a federal water of the US or not and what compliance you have to do. It's the power of common sense. That's the key to all that,” said Sen. John Hoeven, R-North Dakota.

Wheeler says the rule was only in effect in 22 states and Washington DC before the repeal. He expects the new rule to end up court, saying he challenged his agency to craft a rule to withstand a supreme court challenge.

North Dakota's department of agriculture says there's about 5,100 miles of land that should be under WOTUS control. The 2015 rule would have placed more than 85,000 miles under control. Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said during the panel farmers shouldn't have to ask Washington DC to use their own land.