Today Congressman  Oberstar (D – MN) introduced the “America’s Commitment to Clean Water Act”  in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.  Rep. Oberstar who is Charmian of the committee calls the bill an important step toward protecting America’s waters. The truth is the legislation has little to do with clean water.

Every time the Clean Water Act of 1972 talks about its jurisdiction, it uses the word navigable to describe the bodies of water it regulates.

The Administrator shall, after careful investigation, and in cooperation with other Federal agencies, State water pollution control agencies, interstate agencies, and the municipalities and industries involved, prepare or develop comprehensive programs for preventing, reducing, or eliminating the pollution of the navigable waters and ground waters and improving the sanitary condition of surface and underground waters. In the development of such comprehensive programs due regard shall be given to the improvements which are necessary to conserve such waters for the protection and propagation of fish and aquatic life and wildlife, recreational purposes, and the withdrawal of such waters for public water supply, agricultural, industrial, and other purposes. For the purpose of this section, the Administrator is authorized to make joint investigations with any such agencies of the condition of any waters in any State or States, and of the discharges of any sewage, industrial wastes, or substance which may adversely affect such waters.

The purpose of the word “navigable” in the 1972 bill was to limit the bill’s authority to larger bodies of water. Oberstar’s  new bill proposes taking the word “navigable” out of the Clean Water act, rendering every body of water in the United States under the jurisdiction of the federal government.

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We’re talking about everything from lakes to ponds to puddles under the will now be under federal the thumb of the federal government. The result will be severe restrictions on the development of land because developers will have to wait even longer to obtain building permits from the pollution bureaucrats in Washington. It could even affect the methods Farmers and ranchers tend crops and feed their livestock.

Senator Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) spoke about the possible consequences of the bill last week in Roll Call

….There are numerous federal laws that are increasingly encroaching on state sovereignty with regard to water policy. One of the driving laws is the Federal Water Pollution Control Act Amendments of 1972, also known as the Clean Water Act. Recent efforts to modify the CWA may provide perhaps the greatest example of federal overreach on water policy, and the so-called Clean Water Restoration Act is example No. 1 for how some Members of Congress want to drastically expand the power of the federal government over surface waters by modifying our current water laws[this is Oberstar’s bill]. The bill was introduced in response to two Supreme Court cases, in which the court found that the federal government exceeded its authorities under the CWA by regulating areas that had no direct connection to relatively permanent bodies of water.

Farmers in my state are particularly concerned that this legislation would allow the federal government to aggressively regulate farming practices under the Clean Water Act because their land is located near “any waters of the U.S.” I agree with their concerns. This legislation represents a drastic expansion of the ability of the federal government to regulate water sources, from intermittent streams to prairie potholes. State and local governments and private property owners are concerned, as am I.

…After the Clean Water Restoration Act passed out of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on a partisan vote, the Environmental Protection Agency released its Clean Water Enforcement Action Plan. This plan concludes that states are not doing their part and that the federal government is not being aggressive enough in its enforcement actions. The EPA found that enforcement is a problem in 39 states and that “enforcement penalty calculation, documentation and collection” is lacking in 45 states. Instead of undertaking a serious initiative with states, the EPA considered a series of “escalation responses”; one option was to withdraw state-delegated authority to enforce Clean Water Act provisions and taking over those responsibilities altogether.

In response to the introduction of the bill the Property Rights Alliance sent this letter to every member of the committee:

To: All members, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee
RE: “America’s Commitment to Clean Water Act”

April 21, 2010

Dear Member of Congress,

On behalf of Property Rights Alliance, I am writing to express concern over Representative Oberstar’s “America’s Commitment to Clean Water Act” which was introduced today. This bill would infringe on the rights of property owners across the nation and result in an unprecedented expansion of the regulatory authority of the federal government.

Permitting federal jurisdiction over every body of water in America will not ensure the cleanliness of these waters, but merely serve as another bureaucratic barrier for citizens who wish to use land for development. The amended version of the Clean Water Act of 1972 will hinder American economic growth, forcing developers to wait for bureaucrats in Washington to issue building permits. Farmers and ranchers also worry that the new legislation means Congress can dictate how they can correctly tend their crops and livestock in order to “protect the waters” near their land.

To make matters worse, Rep. Oberstar has enacted these changes in spite of two Supreme Court cases: Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County v. United States Army Corps of Engineers (2001) and Rapanos v. United States (2006). These cases clearly stated that the reach of the federal government does not extend to all waters, and that by attempting to do so, the federal government is overstepping its boundaries.

The Property Rights Alliance encourages every member of the Committee to please protect the property rights of your constituents all across America by voting against Rep. Oberstar’s proposed legislation. Congress should never have the authority to dictate how citizens may utilize their own private land.
Kelsey Zahourek
Executive Director

If you would like to contact the committee, or find out if your Representative is a member Click Here