As a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the House Agriculture Committee, I have a keen interest in the federal government’s regulation of our Nation’s waters especially when these regulations have the potential to very negatively impact landowners, farm families, municipalities, and small businesses all across our great country.
The 1972 amendments to the Clean Water Act established federal jurisdiction over “navigable waters,” defined in the Act as the “Waters of the United States” (WOTUS). Complicating the picture significantly, no clear definition of WOTUS was included in the law, which gave wide latitude to creative interpretations leading to much uncertainty and legal wrangling over these many years.
The Obama administration put in place a rule defining WOTUS in such a way that would have resulted in an unprecedented expansion and scope of the federal bureaucracy onto your private property. Their rule’s absurd definition, which could have easily been interpreted to include temporary water accumulation, such as a mud puddle and even water running across dry land after a rainstorm, drew substantial opposition from farmers, local governments, small businesses and many citizens.
When President Trump repealed the 2015 Obama-Biden rule, there was no longer any worry about an unelected bureaucrat in Washington, D.C., dictating what could or could not be done on private property. The Trump administration’s WOTUS rule provided much needed clarity and predictability to regulated parties across the United States. And despite what some claim, the Trump-era rule did not give polluters free rein to disregard the health of our nation’s waterways.
Now, the Biden administration is working to issue a new rule in a move that has many concerned about government overreach with the potential to limit food production, American energy production, home building, and critical infrastructure projects.
Our farm families are the original stewards of our land. They have a vested interest in maintaining and protecting our natural resources. Their livelihoods depend upon clean water and a clean environment. In most cases, those involved in agriculture are multi-generation family farmers. Each intends to leave their land to their children better than they found it. Let us not get in their way with a federal government power grab adding more red tape and headache. Adding more cost to food production in the form of unnecessary regulation is always a dumb idea, but it is especially so during a time of rising inflation, rising input costs, and rising food prices.
Besides the impact on American agriculture, a bad rule will also complicate — and in so many cases potentially terminate — new infrastructure projects. The ability to start and complete infrastructure projects timely and at the least cost to taxpayers will be severely hindered if not impossible. This is especially concerning given Congress recently approved billions of dollars in federal funding for infrastructure projects.
An upcoming Supreme Court ruling on WOTUS in the case of Sackett v. Environmental Protection Agency will have significant impacts on any rule the Biden administration puts forward. The administration should halt its current effort to revise the definition until a decision is made by the Supreme Court on Sackett.
In the meantime, they should reinstate the WOTUS rule the Trump administration had in place. It worked. It was fair to our Nation’s farmers, ranchers, small businesses, city planners, and everyone else. Importantly, its commonsense clarity enabled better enforcement of the Clean Water Act. A return to anything close to the 2015 Obama-Biden WOTUS rule would place a regulatory burden on average Americans, farm families and small businesses that would be highly detrimental.
• U.S. Rep. David Rouzer, North Carolina Republican, represents the state’s 7th Congressional District. He serves as Ranking Member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment.
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