Did you know that federal water regulators have been trying to greatly expand their reach into private lands by seeking to make small ponds, puddles and ditches subject to strict federal regulations?
If you’re a farmer or a forester, you probably know exactly what I’m talking about. But, many Americans might not be aware of this federal government scheme to erode property rights and encroach private lands.
Since its enactment in the 1970s, the Clean Water Act’s scope of authority to regulate waterways has been limited to “navigable waters,” which are labeled “Waters of the United States.” Smaller, non-navigable, more remote waters have always been the jurisdiction of state and local governments.
But now, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Army Corps of Engineers have proposed a new rule redefining “Waters of the United States” to include all manner of small areas where water collects, or could collect, such as ditches, puddles and even decorative ponds.
Obviously, we all want to ensure rules are followed to keep our waters clean. And, farmers naturally want to maintain a clean environment in order to continue being good stewards of their land. But, this new rule could require many Alabama landowners to obtain a federal permit for everyday farming operations, forcing them to spend thousands to come into compliance with aggressive regulations – all when the waters on or near their land aren’t navigable and the public water supply is not remotely threatened.
Not surprisingly, this proposal has been met with strong opposition from Republicans and Democrats alike. This past week, the House 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 Corps 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.
The Senate is expected to consider similar legislation as well, and the support there is also bi-partisan. 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 under this rule.
Trying to expand the definition of navigable waters to include puddles and ditches has never made sense. It reeks of a radical environmental agenda being forced on Americans, and Congress is right to take steps to stop it.
Martha Roby represents Alabama’s 2nd Congressional District. She is currently serving her third term.