In 1972, Congress enacted the Clean Water Act which ushered in the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency. The law was the result of press coverage surrounding a fire on the Cuyahoga River that entailed chemicals and debris dumped into the river that caught fire. Despite thirteen prior fire incidents, the 1969 event caught the attention of Time Magazine in which it made the Cuyahoga river fire of that year a front page item.
Now, some forty two years later, the EPA is set to expand it’s jurisdiction over all waterways across the United States. It sounds like a good idea, but the details when considering specific circumstances result in other consequences. Just by the omission of one word, the EPA would have full authority to regulate streams and lakes that state and local jurisdictions have had to manage. By removing the word navigable from water law it could allow the EPA to reclassify just about any piece of land that is wet at certain times of the year.
In the case of farmers, the Waters of the US (WOTUS) rule change could impose civil penalties, fines and even imprisonment if a farmer abridges US water regulations. Even if the runoff from farms gets into rivers, lakes and streams despite a farmer’s best efforts to prevent it. The potential results of the WOTUS rule change have resulted in six governors and ten attorneys general to write to the EPA to express their opposition.
Naturally, environmentalists support the rule change pitching it as closing loopholes in order to prevent water pollution on water ways. The EPA states that WOTUS would expand its jurisdiction by only 3 percent and green groups point out the EPA has always had authority over wetlands and streams. That maybe true, but when environmentalists are involved in efforts to enact rules like this it usually involves more political control over others since that is what they are all about.