(This piece was originally published on August 2, 2017 in The Indianapolis Star.)

Scott Pruitt, the head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, met Wednesday with Gov. Eric Holcomb as part of Pruitt’s “State Action Tour” to discuss the administration’s plans to dismantle and redefine the federal Clean Water Rule.

Pruitt’s visit to Indiana is one that many state environmental and conservation groups said they would have loved to be a part of had they known about it.

During Pruitt’s tour stop the EPA administrator’s sixth in three weeks he met with Holcomb, Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch and “other state officials,” according to a release sent by the EPA press office late Wednesday afternoon. Those other officials were not identified beyond “some agency leaders” by Holcomb’s press secretary, Stephanie Wilson.

Afterward, the EPA chief hosted a roundtable at Mike Starkey Farms in Boonville to carry on the conversation about the “Water of the United States,” or WOTUS rule, and efforts to rescind it. Pruitt concluded his Indiana trip with a stop at Liberty Mine in Boonville, where safeguarding mining jobs while improving environmental conditions was the main topic.

When asked about the meeting with the governor, Wilson issued only this statement via email: “Administrator Pruitt wanted to come to Indiana for a discussion about WOTUS. This is his second visit to our state. We were happy to host him once again and help facilitate the conversation.”

Indiana Farm Bureau President Randy Kron had the opportunity to meet Pruitt at Starkey Farms, bureau spokesman Garrett Kelly told IndyStar. The president of Indiana’s Chamber of Commerce, Kevin Brinegar, also was informed of the EPA’s visit, according to spokeswoman Rebecca Patrick.

That’s not surprising. Agriculture and business interests clearly have a stake in any change to federal environmental policy. The chamber, in a statement to IndyStar, said repealing WOTUS is one of its priorities.

But it appears Pruitt made no effort to also meet with environmental groups. The Hoosier Environmental Council, the Nature Conservancy’s Indiana Chapter, the Sierra Club’s Hoosier Chapter, Citizens Action Coalition, Conservation Law Center and Indiana Water Environmental Association each said they were unaware of the visit.

“Apparently, he just came into town and met with the governor and left, but that’s about all we know,” council senior policy director Tim Maloney said. “It would be unfortunate if he just came here looking for support for that effort and hearing those viewpoints and not hearing other viewpoints on why the Clean Water Rule is a good one.”

The goal of the 2015 WOTUS was to recognize the importance of the small tributaries of larger waterways and make sure that that part of the surface water system is clearly protected under existing Clean Water Act rules and standards.

More specifically, it helped to remove uncertainty and clarify over which waterways were protected and which weren’t, Maloney explained. But in doing so it also expanded what is subject to the Clean Water Act, which some business and farming interests believe has created unnecessary burdens.

Several of the environmental groups learned of Pruitt’s visit after IndyStar inquiries, and others became aware only after seeing a tweet from Pruitt’s official account around noon with a picture and comment about his meeting with Holcomb.

Most of the conservationists said they were not surprised to have not been informed of his visit.

“It is troubling, but not surprising,” Citizens Action Coalition Director Kerwin Olson told IndyStar.

“One would think that he would want to meet with local groups with feet on the ground,” he added. “These discussions should be inclusive with all affected and interested stakeholders at the table that’s the only way to ensure the public interest is being addressed.”

The EPA’s Indiana visit seems to follow a similar pattern to some of Pruitt’s other stops on his State Action Tour. In South Carolina this past week, he met with business people including economic development officials, homebuilders and energy company representatives as well as farmers, all who were critical of Obama-era clean water protections, according to The State in Columbia, S.C.

Pruitt kicked off his tour in Utah on July 18, but no schedule has been provided on when and where he will be making stops.

The agriculture industry should not be burdened with unnecessary government overreach, Pruitt said in the EPA release. By beginning the process to redefine WOTUS, we are prioritizing clean water across the country, while also respecting states traditional regulatory role over their own waters and providing much-needed certainty to farmers and landowners.

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