Good news: the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has halted an attempt by the Environmental Protection Agency to expand its reach into private lands by making small ponds, streams and ditches subject to federal regulations.
Federal regulators had attempted to go around Congress and redefine “Waters of the United States” in the Clean Water Act to include all manner of small areas where water collects, or could collect, such as ditches, puddles and even decorative ponds. Everyone agrees there should be sensible rules to ensure our water remains safe and clean. However, this kind of over-the-top, unilateral, unnecessary regulation from the federal government could result in sudden and drastic increases in compliance costs for farmers, foresters and almost anyone who owns land.
I am strongly opposed to this kind of “backdoor legislating,” in which government agencies like the EPA decide to single-handedly impose new, aggressive regulations. Our Constitution separates the powers of government among the three branches and sets up a system of checks and balances to ensure the people – not the government – are ultimately in charge. Our laws have legitimacy because they are passed by representatives elected by and accountable to the people. That system is undermined when politically-appointed bureaucrats in federal agencies are allowed to impose unilateral, binding regulations. Fighting this regulatory overreach from the Executive Branch is one of my top priorities in Congress.
In May, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 1732, The Regulatory Integrity Protection Act, which blocks the proposed rule from going into effect. The bill instructs the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers to abandon their current proposed rule and start the rule making process over, seeking input from those who would be affected: state and local governments, farmers and private landowners, among others. However, as with many other issues, gridlock in the Senate has prevented this important bill from being considered.
Thankfully, several states including Alabama filed suit against the EPA asking the Court to stop this power grab. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals granted a nationwide stay, meaning the EPA cannot impose their new rule while the court sorts out the legal case. In its ruling, the court wrote, “A stay temporarily silences the whirlwind of confusion that springs from uncertainty about the requirements of the new Rule and whether they will survive legal testing. A stay honors the policy of cooperative federalism that informs the Clean Water Act and must attend the shared responsibility for safeguarding the nation’s waters.”
This is good news for Alabama farmers, foresters and really property rights in general. I’ve heard from countless individuals in Alabama who are under threat of being aggressively and unnecessarily penalized by federal water regulators. Though temporary, the Court’s ruling is a relief for them and a win for our Constitutional separation of powers.
Martha Roby represents Alabama’s 2nd Congressional District. She is currently serving her third term.