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COLUMN: The EPA’s Waterway Power Grab

May 29, 2015
Weekly Column and Op-Ed
By Rep. Dan Newhouse

If you were asked to describe a “navigable waterway” in the U.S., you would most likely not think of the stream in your backyard or the irrigation ditch in your field. You would probably mention the Columbia and Mississippi rivers or the Great Lakes. These massive bodies of water are navigable because they function as highways for commercial traffic by ship or boat. Under the Obama Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would disagree. These agencies have defined waterways in a way that only D.C. bureaucracies can: in terms of increasing federal mandates at the expense of states, local governments, and private property owners.

As a third-generation farmer, I understand the importance of conservation and clean water. When the EPA and the Corps were authorized to regulate navigable waterways under the 1972 Clean Water Act, Congress intended for the federal government to work with state and local authorities under the law to keep waterways clean. Over time, however, federal agencies have stretched their authority to regulate waters the Clean Water Act never intended to regulate at the expense of states, localities, and economic development. Unsurprisingly, the effort to increase federal control has accelerated under the Obama Administration, whose hallmark has been to push sweeping federal regulations.

Under the pretext of “clarification,” last week the EPA and the Corps finalized the “Waters of the United States” (WOTUS) rule, which would further expand the federal government’s jurisdiction over water that has a “significant nexus” with a navigable body of water, which includes streams, ditches and ponds. In the interest of ever-greater central planning, the Obama Administration’s expansion of federal control over state and private land would limit what citizens can and cannot do on land they own. Expanded federal authority entails costly permits and fines, damaging the economy and increasing the regulatory burden and uncertainty for farmers, ranchers, localities and small businesses.

Recently, I voted for H.R 1732, the Regulatory Integrity Protection Act of 2015, which would require the EPA and the Corps to withdraw the current WOTUS rule, which was drafted without adequate consultation with states and despite serious concerns about the economic impact. H.R 1732 would charge the agencies to develop a new proposal and meet regularly with stakeholders and state and local officials in order to clarify the scope and jurisdiction covered by the Clean Water Act. The bill passed overwhelmingly in the House of Representatives on a bipartisan basis. The Senate should act quickly and follow the House’s lead to end the federal power grab once and for all.

From the perspective of this Administration, more top-down rules and regulations from Washington, D.C., rather than local control, seem to be the answer for every problem. Bureaucrats in D.C. seem impervious to the fact that more costly rules and red tape threaten economic growth, jobs, and private property. Congress can and should reverse the EPA and the Corps effort to expand federal control over waterways and restore sensible collaboration with states and local stakeholders to keep our waters clean.