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Ranchers sue over rule giving feds authority on state water

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Ranchers in New Mexico, California and Washington state have challenged a new Obama administration rule giving federal agencies authority to protect some streams and wetlands.

The Sacramento, California-based Pacific Legal Foundation announced it has filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Minnesota on behalf of the ranchers over the recent expansion of the Clean Water Act.

The rule came in response to calls from the U.S. Supreme Court and Congress for the Environmental Protection Agency to clarify which smaller waterways are protected under the law.

The foundation argues the rule is unconstitutional because it sets no limit on the reach of the Clean Water Act.

“We are suing to block the administration’s breathtaking attempt to control practically every pond, stream, and ditch in the country,” said Pacific Legal Foundation attorney Reed Hopper.

EPA spokeswoman Monica Lee declined to comment on the lawsuit.

The agency said in a statement that the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers finalized the Clean Water Rule because protection for many of the nation’s streams and wetlands had been confusing, complex and time-consuming as a result of past Supreme Court decisions.

“The agencies developed a rule that ensures that waters protected under the Clean Water Act are more precisely defined, more predictably determined, and easier for businesses and industry to understand,” the EPA said.

Minnesota-based Pierce Investment Co. also is named as a plaintiff in the lawsuit that seeks to throw out the new rule.

The company owns property in Marshall County, Minnesota, that the Corps of Engineers claims is subject to federal jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act.

In June, 13 states led by North Dakota filed a lawsuit over the same rule change.

North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said the “Waters of the U.S.” rule by the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers is a power grab that is “unnecessary and unlawful and will do nothing to increase water quality.”

That lawsuit, filed in federal court in Bismarck, also asks for the rule to be thrown out.

Nine other states later joined the lawsuit.

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Follow Russell Contreras at http://twitter.com/russcontreras.

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