President Trump made good on a major campaign promise Tuesday, as the Environmental Protection Agency announced the beginning of a process that will roll back the Waters of the United States rule, a move that has champions of private property rights cheering loudly.
On Tuesday, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt made the policy shift official.
“We are taking significant action to return power to the states and provide regulatory certainty to our nation’s farmers and businesses,” said Pruitt in a statement.
“This is the first step in the two-step process to redefine ‘waters of the U.S.’ and we are committed to moving through this re-evaluation to quickly provide regulatory certainty, in a way that is thoughtful, transparent and collaborative with other agencies and the public,” he added
“It’s a big day for freedom for property rights and the Constitution,” said R.J. Smith, a senior fellow in environmental policy at the National Center for Public Policy Research.
Smith says he Waters of the United States rule, or WOTUS, which was put forward during the Obama administration, was nothing more than gross distortion of what Congress intended for the EPA to regulate as part of the Clean Water Act.
The act specifically allowed government to regulate “navigable” waterways, which Smith said was well-understood to mean bodies of water on which commerce traveled through shipping. But he says the government was content to leash its authority.
“‘Navigable waters’ kept getting stretched by the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers year after year. First it would go to tributary streams. Then it would go to smaller streams. Then it would go to creeks and it would go to irrigation ditches, things that nothing could navigate,” said Smith.
It didn’t stop there.
“Then it began to control the lands that were adjacent to navigable waters and lands that were adjacent to things that ran into navigable waters,” said Smith.
“By vastly expanding this,they’ve reached a point now where something that was only supposed to protect major rivers to see that commerce could take place in America now controls whether a farmer can plow his own land,” said Smith.
And that creeping government control forces property owners to beg Uncle Sam to use their own property.
“It takes an endless amount of time, years of time, money and still uncertainty to try to get a permit to use your own land. Anything that rain falls on now could technically be considered waters of the United States,” said Smith, noting that building a home on seemingly dry land on your own property could lead to millions of dollars in government fines.
The rescinding of WOTUS is not the end of the story. Pruitt’s announcement triggers a 30-day comment period, which will be considered in revising the existing rule.
“EPA and the corps together will come up with a revised rule, hopefully a rule that protects property rights and puts the EPA and the corps back into the constitutional mode they’re supposed to be in,” said Smith.
He also wants Congress to make sure the EPA can never stretch the definition of “navigable waters” ever again.
“The United States Congress needs to go back and revisit the Clean Water Act of 1972 and amend it so that it unequivocally says that “navigable” means navigable and it means by commercial shipping, not by somebody in a motor boat, not by somebody in a canoe or a kayak or a rubber raft or even floating down a little tiny creek in a tube,” said Smith.