Ag Groups Say Clean Water Act Overreaches Federal Authority

June 18, 2009 07:00 PM
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The Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee passed S. 787, the Clean Water Restoration Act (CWRA) out of committee yesterday on a party-line vote, bringing the country one step closer to the largest federal land grab in our history, according to a press release by the National Cattlemen's Beef Association. 

The bill was amended at the markup by Senators Baucus, Klobuchar, and Boxer. The amendment is a smoke screen that allegedly takes care of agricultural concerns by exempting prior-converted croplands from federal jurisdiction, according to NCBA. Cattle are generally not grazed on prior-converted croplands, so this amendment does nothing to mitigate the potential damage to livestock production from this legislation. The amendment is a diversion from the real issue, which is the removal of the word "navigable" from the definition of waters.

The National Association of Counties President Don Stapley says that NACo supports CWA provisions that protect wetland habitats and rivers and streams of the U.S., but does not support federal efforts to change the definition of the Clean Water Act from navigable waters to "waters of the United States.” In addition, NACo opposes federal efforts to further expand the authority and responsibilities of the federal agencies in regard to these waters.

"The legislation would drastically expand federal clean water jurisdiction and create significant bureaucratic obstacles and lead to increased costs to counties without necessarily enhancing environmental protections of waterways and wetlands,” Stapley says.

American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman called the bill "regulatory overkill” that largely disregards the positive conservation role farmers and ranchers are playing.

"By replacing ‘navigable waters' with ‘all intrastate waters,' the federal government would have control of structures such as drainage ditches, which are only wet during rain events,” Stallman says. "Rather than restore the Clean Water Act, it just brings a new truckload of restrictions for the people who do most to protect our water.”

Under current law, the federal government has jurisdiction over "navigable waters of the United States."  However, by removing the word "navigable" from the definition, the CWRA would expand federal regulatory control to unprecedented levels - essentially putting stock tanks, drainage ditches, any puddle or water feature found on family farms and ranches—potentially even ground water—under the regulatory strong-arm of the federal government, says NCBA. 

Several agriculture groups strongly oppose this legislation, not only because it  infringes on private property rights, but also because it limits the state partnerships and flexibility that have made the current Clean Water Act so successful. 

"The very premise of this bill is to override a state's fundamental right to oversee waters within its borders and to usurp the power of land owners to manage their property as they see fit," said Sen. James Inhofe during the committee vote early Thursday. The Oklahoma Republican is the committee's ranking member. "Allowing [the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers] to exercise unlimited regulatory authority over all interstate and intrastate water - or virtually anything that is wet - goes too far."



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