June 22, 2015

Federal Water Grab Must Be Stopped

Guest column submitted by U.S. Senator Mike Crapo

In the face of unprecedented opposition from small businesses, agriculture groups, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle and many other Americans, the Administration is moving forward in finalizing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) efforts to wrongly assert jurisdiction over nearly all waters of the United States.  The Administration's water grab is harmful to our economy, inconsistent with the intent of the Clean Water Act (CWA), subverts state water sovereignty and jeopardizes private property rights.  Congress must act immediately on S. 1140, the Federal Water Quality Protection Act, bipartisan legislation that would rein in EPA's misguided attempt to exceed the bounds of its statutory power. 

Through the"Waters of the United States" Rule finalized on May 27, 2015 by the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps), the Administration is greatly increasing the regulatory power of the federal government under the CWA altering the scope of this law by asserting jurisdiction over all waters of the United States.  The EPA's action significantly expands federal authority, allowing the agency to regulate nearly every stream, ditch, pond, puddle and other local water bodies. 

I joined 37 other Senators, including fellow Idaho Senator Jim Risch, in co-sponsoring S. 1140 that would prevent implementation of the final "Waters of the United States" rule and direct the EPA and Corps to redo the final rule following commonsense principles.  The legislation stipulates that any new rule must adhere to the principles that waters of the U.S. are limited to truly navigable waters, including streams identified as drinking water sources, wetlands protecting water sources and not the isolated ponds; stormwater, floodwater and wastewater management systems; agricultural irrigation systems and virtually all other non-navigable water bodies that the agencies are seeking to control.

The EPA's jurisdictional grab of our waterways violates its statutory authority and congressional intent.  Under our constitutional system, the states, not the federal government, have always had primary jurisdiction over the allocation, management and use of water.  The federal government's jurisdiction has been limited under the CWAto navigable waters.  Past legislation to exert federal control over non-navigable waters has not been enacted into law.  I have helped block it in the U.S. Senate.  Lacking congressionally-authorized authority, the Administration is side-stepping Congress and the American people and acting unilaterally to take over our water.  This legislation would make the limitations on the federal government's authority over our water even more clear.

Protection of our drinking water sources must be maintained.  However, the Administration taking control of waters that were not meant to be under the federal government's control is not the answer.  Further, the Administration must consult with the states to ensure that any new guidelines do not carry unnecessary burdens that do not result in appreciable benefits for protecting our waterways.  This legislation is meant to help make sure that occurs and America's small businesses, farmers and ranchers do not get further trampled under the weight of heavy-handed federal mandates. 

In May, the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation requiring the Administration to withdraw the rule and setting guidelines for any future rule.  As a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, I supported the committee's recent passage of S. 1140 out of the committee.  Now, the Senate must act to ensure that this Administration is not unchecked in its trampling of state water sovereignty and infringement on property rights.  Enactment of S. 1140 would be a step in the right direction to controlling this unwarranted expansion of federal control.   

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