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Permit for a Puddle?: Government's Attempt to Regulate Your Water


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Permit for a Puddle?: Government's Attempt to Regulate Your Water

by U.S. Representative Barbara Cubin

Far too often, career politicians in Washington get so caught up in the nitty gritty of legislation, they completely lose sight of why the government exists in the first place. President Reagan used to say that "Government's first duty is to protect the people, not run their lives." The Clean Water Authority Restoration Act of 2007 (H.R. 2421) is a perfect example of bureaucrats forgetting what the federal government's role should be. H.R. 2421 would extend the federal government's jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act (CWA) to all "waters of the United States," and in doing so, would extend its reach to almost any drop of water in our state.

The most frightening aspect of this bill is that no one really knows what its real impact would be. Under current law, federal jurisdiction under the CWA is limited to "navigable waters." For all other waters, management decisions are left where they should be - in the capable hands of the states. Due to the new bill's vague definition of what "waters of the United States" entails, the likely result of the measure would be to burden local communities and private property owners with additional cumbersome regulations. Prior converted croplands (PCCs), treatment ponds, and local water infrastructure projects could all be swept under the permitting requirements of the CWA. The federal government has no place in regulating every pond, creek, or mud puddle within an individual state - particularly on private property. In fact, Section 101(b) of the CWA itself clearly clarifies Congress' intent that states maintain the primary responsibility for land and water decisions within their borders. H.R. 2421 raises serious states-rights concerns the bill sponsors have not addressed.

The fact of the matter is expanding the federal government's jurisdiction over approved uses on our nation's waterways has an untold number of consequences. That's why I have heard from numerous groups, including the Wyoming Association of Rural Water Systems, the National Water Resources Association, the Western Business Roundtable, and numerous agriculture producers in Wyoming that such a broad expansion of the CWA would significantly affect their ability to manage water resources in the West. I opposed this bill when it was first introduced and still advocate against it today because it fails to strike a reasonable balance between environmental protections and private land-use rights. Instead, this bill creates unnecessary burdens on the very people which it intends to help.

The bill's title makes it appear that if you oppose this bill you oppose efforts to secure clean water. Nothing could be further from the truth. We all support clean water. Every community in the U.S. deserves to have access to clean water. The point of disagreement occurs when we ask how we secure this goal.

Another favorite saying of President Reagan's was that "the most terrifying words in the English language are, ‘I am from the government and I am here to help.'" Unfortunately, this bill as it is currently written proves the Gipper's point.

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