Nearly 30 Western members of Congress have sent a letter urging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to stop trying to regulate water on private land.
The Senate and House of Representatives Western caucuses chaired by Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., and Reps. Stevan Pearce, R-N.M., and Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., said the agency is attempting to circumvent Congress to enact “job-crushing policies” that would eventually take over non-federal water in the United States.
The agency is seeking to expand the definition of “waters of the United States” in the Clean Water Act to include any water that feeds the navigable rivers and streams that now fall under federal jurisdiction.
Caucus members say the rule would mean a “massive Washington takeover” of private water, and they point to Congress’ rejection of a bill in 2009 to change the definition of “navigable” waters in the Clean Water Act.
“We ask that you work with Congress to address these issues, keeping in mind the need to provide clean water for our environment and communities while also acknowledging the important role states play as a partner in achieving these goals,” caucus members told EPA administrator Gina McCarthy in the Nov. 13 letter.
“We also ask that you consider the economic impacts of your policies knowing that your actions will have serious impacts on struggling families, seniors, low-income households and small business owners,” the members wrote.
Those who signed the letter included Idaho’s Republican Sens. Jim Risch and Mike Crapo as well as Reps. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., and Greg Walden, R-Ore.
If the rule is finalized, members of Congress “will re-evaluate and decide what the best course of action is,” Congressional Western Caucus spokeswoman Emily Hytha said in an email.
The draft rule, which is being reviewed by the federal Office of Management and Budget, relies on data from a scientific report titled “Connectivity of Streams and Wetlands to Downstream Waters,” for which the EPA’s Science Advisory Board took public comment until last week.
The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association has voiced concerns the rule could eventually force farmers and ranchers to get permits for routine agricultural activities.
The EPA counters that the rule is limited to clarifying uncertainties over Clean Water Act jurisdiction that have arisen from a 2006 U.S. Supreme Court case and doesn’t propose changes to existing regulatory exemptions, including those for agriculture.
The proposed regulation offers exclusions for such farm features as irrigation ditches, stock ponds, artificially irrigated fields and areas artificially flooded for rice growing.
“The proposed rule will provide greater consistency, certainty and predictability nationwide by providing clarity in determining when the Clean Water Act applies,” agency spokeswoman Stacy Kika said in an email.
The lawmakers say additional regulatory costs associated with changes in jurisdiction and increases in permits would impose barriers to economic growth and negatively impact farms and other businesses. In addition, expanding federal control over intrastate waters would interfere with landowners’ ability to use their property, they assert.
EPA report on proposed rule and scientific study: http://water.epa.gov/lawsregs/guidance/wetlands/CWAwaters.cfm
Senate Western Caucus: http://www.barrasso.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?FuseAction=PressOffice.SenateWesternCaucus
Congressional Western Caucus: http://www.westerncaucus.pearce.house.gov