Last week the Obama administration released a proposal that could lengthen the already long arm of federal agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), into the affairs of practically every U.S. business, farmer, landowner, and local and state government.
According to the administration, the intent of this proposed rule is to “clarify” which waterbodies are subject to federal regulation under the Clean Water Act.
In reality, this action is another attempt by this imperial presidency to circumvent Congressional intent in order to dramatically expand federal jurisdiction over waters and wet areas in the United States and break down the well established limits to the federal government’s power over the American people.
Signed into law in 1972, the Clean Water Act has had a tremendous positive impact on water quality in our country. The law established a balanced, reasonable partnership between the states and the federal government, which has led to significantly less pollution and cleaner water for the country.
Under the Act, the federal government’s and the EPA’s regulatory reach was intentionally limited to “navigable waters”; the law was designed to exempt some bodies of water, such as backyard ponds, where there is not a federal interest, and leave any regulation of those areas to the states, if they so choose.
Twice, the Supreme Court has confirmed to federal agencies that there are limits to federal jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act, and that they had gone too far in asserting their authority.
However, in recent years, the Obama administration and some lawmakers have sought to expand that definition of authority to include a range of new areas, including small ponds, creeks, and other water found on private property.
It is the responsibility of Congress – and only Congress – to change the scope and amend the Clean Water Act. And Congress has determined this to be unnecessary. This massive federal jurisdiction and land grab was the subject of failed legislation in the 110th and 111th Congresses. Strong bipartisan opposition prevented those bills from gaining any traction.
With those past failures and a clear lack of Congressional support for the effort, the president is now trying to achieve this expansion of federal power on his own through unilateral action. This decision shows a disregard for the balance of powers laid out by our nation’s founders.
These actions are disturbing enough, but unilaterally broadening the scope of the Clean Water Act and the federal government’s reach will also adversely impact the economy, threaten jobs, invite costly litigation, and restrict the rights of states and local governments to make decisions about their lands.
This action could result in greater regulation of businesses and landowners, compelling them to apply for permits, with all the associated bureaucratic delays, before they can do something on their own property.
As chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, with jurisdiction over the EPA, I will be holding oversight hearings to examine the administration’s and the Agency’s overreach on this issue.
The last thing people need is for the EPA to come knocking on their doors, looking to regulate every wet corner of their properties.
The federal government must act as a partner, not as Big Brother, to continue protecting our waters, without engineering greater power for itself to impose unreasonable and burdensome regulations on our small businesses, farmers, and families.
Republican Bill Shuster represents Pennsylvania's 9th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives. He serves as chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.