- - Sunday, May 31, 2015


Farmers are now the bad guys.

President Obama’s administration last week claimed dominion over all of America’s streams, creeks, rills, ditches, brooks, rivulets, burns, tributaries, criks, wetlands — perhaps even puddles — in a sweeping move to assert unilateral federal authority.

The New York Times had a wonderful take on the power grab, saying the move “opened up a broad new front for attacks from business interests like farmers, property developers, fertilizer and pesticide makers, oil and gas producers and golf course owners, who contend that the rule would stifle economic growth and intrude on property owners’ rights.”

Those, according to the Times, are the demons: Developers, oil producers, pesticide makers. But farmers? Farmers?!

Mr. Obama said that “one in three Americans now gets drinking water from streams lacking clear protection, and businesses and industries that depend on clean water face uncertainty and delay, which costs our economy every day. Too many of our waters have been left vulnerable to pollution.”

“With today’s rule,” he said, “we take another step towards protecting the waters that belong to all of us.”

The Environmental Protection Agency, along with the Army Corps of Engineers, says it has the authority to control all waterways within the United States — and will exercise that authority. At question are “temporary” waterways, like small streams or gullies that appear when there is heavy rain or large amounts of snow melt.

“We’re finalizing a clean-water rule to protect the streams and the wetlands that one in three Americans rely on for drinking water. And we’re doing that without creating any new permitting requirements and maintaining all previous exemptions and exclusions,” EPA head Gina McCarthy told reporters on Wednesday.

The move comes as part of the Clean Water Act and federal officials say they are simply trying to help businesses comply with regulations.

“This rule is about clarification, and in fact, we’re adding exclusions for features like artificial lakes and ponds, water-filled depressions from constructions and grass swales,” Ms. McCarthy said. “This rule will make it easier to identify protected waters and will make those protections consistent with the law as well as the latest peer-reviewed science. This rule is based on science.”

The Supreme Court has twice questioned the breadth of powers decreed under the Clean Water Act, prompting Wednesday’s actions.

Ms. McCarthy claimed the new powers would “not interfere with private property rights or address land use.”

“It does not regulate any ditches unless they function as tributaries. It does not apply to groundwater or shallow subsurface water, copper tile drains or change policy on irrigation or water transfer.”

Not surprisingly, Sen. Barbara Boxer of California, the top Democrat on the Environment and Public Works Committee, loves the plan.

“The Obama administration listened to all perspectives and developed a final rule that will help guarantee safe drinking water supplies for American families and businesses and restore much-needed certainty, consistency and effectiveness to the Clean Water Act,” she said in a statement.

But other Democrats are giving a big thumbs-down to the Obama administration’s new regulation. At least 25 Democrats in the House are joining with Republicans to oppose the rule; so far, three Democrats have crossed aisles in the Senate. While not veto-proof majorities, the opposition move has only just begun.

Sen. Joe Manchin, West Virginia Democrat, said the EPA is “once again dangerously overreaching its boundaries by expanding the definition of water sources it can regulate.” The lawmaker says the rule “will certainly have a significant impact on West Virginia’s economy, hindering businesses, manufacturing and energy production.”

Big farm groups think the EPA has overstepped its authority by taking dominion over all waterways, even temporary ones. Ranching groups say ranchers rely on such waterways, and having the federal government decide whether they can use them is problematic.

“The American Farm Bureau Federation is particularly concerned about EPA’s jurisdiction over ditches, ephemeral streams and isolated wetlands that may be found in fields,” Mace Thornton, the group’s executive director of communications told Capital Press, “the West’s Ag website.”

“There will be a lot of lawyers and policy experts going over the rule with a fine-toothed comb,” he said.

For the Obama administration, farmers are “bad guys,” equal to those awful pesticide makers (who make it so farmers can grow crops that Americans buy) and those horrible oil producers (who make it so people can drive to the store to buy the food the farmers grow).

Who knew?

Joseph Curl covered the White House and politics for a decade for The Washington Times. He can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @josephcurl.

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