There is no question—America’s rivers, lakes and oceans need to be clean. Anyone that wants to debate this should have to drink and bathe in water just downriver from a sewage plant. However, a recent move by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to use this premise to substantially change how they regulate water could have far ranging implications. These implications could be detrimental to every American that owns land.
In 1977, Congress passed the Clean Water Act, which gave the EPA the authority to regulate “navigable waters of the United States”. Navigable means that you can use a boat on that waterway. This has worked fantastic for several decades and has led to a radical improvement in water quality for the United States. Rivers that used to be able to start on fire from pollution now support healthy populations of native fish.
This year, the EPA has proposed a rule to change their authority from being over “navigable waters of the United States” to “waters of the United States”. It seems relatively minor. The EPA wants this rule because they have had to go to court on a handful of cases to have the court decide whether the EPA has authority over certain waters or not. The EPA believes this change would save taxpayer money on court costs and cut red tape because they wouldn’t have to have the courts decide if a water is under the EPA’s authority on a “case-by-case” basis.
Situations like these remind me of leftover spaghetti that’s been in the fridge for a week. It looks fine, so it should be okay to eat, but how does it smell? Does it pass “the smell test”? Let’s look at this proposed rule in a little more detail. Because it’s on this website, we’ve got a cattle-themed system to rate it. The best rating would be the sweet smell of fresh cut hay, the worst—the pungent odor of male bovine excrement.
So what does this proposed rule look like? At first glance it’s a total mess. The “proposed rule” is 88 pages long, each with three columns and very tiny text. It’s like the “terms and conditions” you have to agree to when you register for a website. The writer knows you aren’t going to read it and purposely can hide things in there that can come back to bite you in the butt. If you want the whole rule, you need to go to http://www2.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2014-04/documents/fr-2014-07142.pdf.
And what bites you in the butt with this proposed rule is the definition of “waters”. Unlike “navagible waters” which is a pretty simple (can I get a boat in this or not?) “waters” covers everything that may or may not have water in it. This includes ditches that only have water in them during a six inch downpour. As a rancher, this means that basically every square foot of my pasture would be regulated by the EPA.
With full authority to regulate, if the EPA demanded I apply for a permit to build fence across a ditch on my pasture, I would legally be required to comply. If the EPA said you couldn’t ride your horse or drive an ATV in the rain because there was a chance a pollutant might fall in a ditch, you would have to comply. The list can just keep going and going. The EPA claims these and other “normal” farming practices will be exempt from regulation, but what is keep the EPA from eliminating these exemptions at any point in time?
It is not like the EPA doesn’t already regulate potential pollutants from agriculture. Runoff from confined feeding operations is already regulated by the EPA. Crop chemical application is already regulated by the EPA. Why does the EPA feel it needs to have control of every last inch of the land in the United States? So much for private property rights.
And if there is a water quality problem in a location, this is certainly not the solution. Giving blanket authority to one agency to regulate every water issue in America makes no sense. Authority needs to be local. The people in authority need to be able to actually go out to the site and see the problem, not have some pre-made form for every case in a nation that spans the length of a continent.
Nobody wants dirty rivers and lakes. The water I drink and the fish I eat come from American rivers and creeks (Yes I drink straight out of the creek back home). If someone is polluting the water, I am the first person affected and want to see it stopped. But this proposed rule has nothing to do with that. It is a power grab from private Americans by a bureaucracy.
Our private property is just that—ours! The land your home sits on and the land my cattle graze on should be under our authority, not a faraway, undemocratic agency. This idea fails the smell test with a rank of three-day-old cow placenta. And boy is it rank!