October 22, 2009

PROTECTING IDAHO'S WATER SOVEREIGNTY

By Idaho Senator Mike Crapo

Since the Clean Water Act was passed in 1972, there has been ongoing debate over the federal government's jurisdiction and regulatory authority to enforce America's clean water laws. Some argue that the Clean Water Act gives the federal government virtually limitless authority over our waters, while others, including myself, have held that there are limits to how far the federal government may go, and that the statute intended to balance rights of states and private property owners with enforcement powers of the federal government. It is incumbent on those of us who make the laws to ensure that that they are being interpreted and enforced properly, and I would like to take this opportunity to address that responsibility in the context of the Clean Water Act.

Under the Clean Water Act, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has taken an increasingly expansive view of the law and its powers under the Act. In SWANCC v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and in 2006, in Rapanos v. United States (2001), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the government had in fact exceeded the intent and purpose of the legislation when it was first passed. These decisions restored the rightful balance under the Act between the federal government and the states and private landowners. Unfortunately, it did not end there.

In June of 2009, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, on which I serve, passed S. 787, the Clean Water Restoration Act, on a party line vote of 12-7. This bill would dramatically expand federal jurisdiction under the current Clean Water Act by allowing for government regulation of virtually all interstate and intrastate waters and their tributaries. I spoke out against the bill due to the significant expansion of the power of the federal government over Idaho (and other states') waters. Though it passed in Committee, I placed a "hold" on the bill, which indicates my willingness to filibuster this legislation if it were to ever be brought up for consideration on the floor of the Senate.

On October 15, 2009, the EPA released "The Clean Water Act Enforcement Action Plan," which claims that states are falling behind in meeting the requirements of the Clean Water Act. It proposes increased federal oversight and enforcement of the law at the state level, and many states are now concerned that EPA is laying the groundwork to revoke the authority of some states to enforce the Clean Water Act. Enforcement is obviously important, but the goal is not to simply punish communities. If states are not meeting the bar that the federal government has set out for them, the appropriate way to address that is by providing technical and financial assistance to states to help bring them into compliance. Stripping states of their authorities under the Act tramples on state and private property rights and will simply add more responsibilities to an overextended Federal government.

The Clean Water Restoration Act is precisely the wrong way to go. By threatening to expand the reach of the federal government beyond its proper role, we threaten state sovereignty and private property rights, not to mention failing to understand and comply with the original intent of the Clean Water Act. I know that Idahoans are best equipped to make decisions about Idaho waters. We are close to the issues and understand the hydrology of our streams, lakes and rivers better than any bureaucrat in Washington, D.C. As such, I stand opposed to the Clean Water Restoration Act and will closely monitor EPA's new enforcement plan, and I will continue to fight for Idaho's water sovereignty.

For more information on Idaho water issues, please visit my website at http://crapo.senate.gov.

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