New Mexico Ranchers Ask for Injunction of Water Rights Rule

The New Mexico Cattle Growers’ Association is seeking an injunction against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for alleged dubious regulation of the Clean Water Act. The association claims its cattle growers are required to have permission from the Army Corps of Engineers before working their own land under a new rule creating additional regulation and time where their lands are not able to be used for business purposes.

The association claims the rule violates their members’ Tenth Amendment rights. “All Americans have the constitutional right to be free from Congressional and Executive Branch regulations that exceed the limited and enumerated powers of the federal government,” the plaintiff said.

The rule defines certain tributaries and wetlands as navigable waters, which the EPA and the Army are authorized to regulate pollutants under the Clean Water Act. This would allegedly cause members of the association to be subjected to higher regulatory requirements to continue the same work on their lands. Many members of the association have farms containing intermittent tributaries and non-navigable wetlands that would become “navigable waters” with the new Waters Protection Rule.

“Ranchers will suffer irreparable harm if EPA and the Army are allowed to regulate their private property under the Intermittent Tributary and Non-abutting Wetland Provisions. The Provisions will require Ranchers to spend months to years, and tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars, to obtain Army permits to farm and otherwise use their own land,” the request for an injunction states. The Plaintiff argues that even after the permits are obtained there would be additional restrictions to ongoing ranching and farming operations.

The New Mexico Cattle Growers’ Association asks for a change in the definitions in the Waters Protection Rule which would keep the water on its members’ land from being reclassified. It claims intermittent non-navigable tributaries and non-abutting wetlands are frequently found on its members’ ranches and lands.

The initial complaint was filed against the EPA in October 2019. The New Mexico Cattle Growers’ Association is a non-profit advocating organization represented by the Pacific Legal Foundation.  The EPA, United States Army Corps of Engineers other individual defendants in those organizations are represented by Erica Zilioli with the United States Department of Justice.