The recent Supreme Court ruling in West Virginia v. EPA was a big win for stopping the EPA’s regulatory overreach. This ruling will mean that bureaucrats can’t invent authority from 40-year-old statutes to make up new rules Congress hasn’t authorized. Even broad delegation of power from Congress, something I oppose, has limits. Regulations must comply with the actual words in the law. Now that the Supreme Court has done it once, it needs to finish the job when it reviews the Waters of the United States rule in Sackett II v. EPA.
Much like in the case of West Virginia v. EPA, the question at stake in Sackett II is a much-needed check on executive power grabs. Since the Obama administration, the EPA has been emboldened to unlawfully wield WOTUS as a new regulatory sword, assaulting landowners, farmers, ranchers and municipalities across the nation with made-up rules. Congress never gave the EPA the authority to regulate every puddle in America. The EPA used a 1972 law, the Clean Water Act, to make a rule that says any puddle lasting more than six hours after rain stops could be a federally regulated waterway. Farmland, miles away from any river that has runoff that “may” reach a stream, that connects to a river was regulated. That’s not what the law says, and that’s absolutely ridiculous.
In the original authority given to the EPA, Congress purposely exempted farmers and ranchers from the confines of the CWA. In typical EPA fashion, these bureaucrats ignored the restrictions set in place by Congress, and went ahead with their own authority, enacting strict and overbearing guidelines on agricultural producers to the point where the agency is actively hindering one of our nation’s most vital industries.
The EPA and Army Corps have completely overstepped their authority, exploiting their made-up rules to extort millions of dollars in fines in Northern California for simply plowing existing fields four inches deep to plant wheat. In another case regarding the EPA’s overbearing authority, the government’s lawyer told a farmer, that when water falls down the four-inch furrow, it is like water going down a “mini-mountain range.” That farmer ended up settling with the government for over $1 million because he couldn’t keep up the legal fight that would have cost him more.
Under the Obama administration, the EPA finalized an updated rule that significantly expanded the definition of WOTUS and the EPA’s regulatory authority far beyond the limits originally set in place by Congress. This 2015 rule was nothing short of a land and water grab that gave bureaucrats the ability to meddle in intermittent and ephemeral streams — such as the kind farmers use for drainage and irrigation — and to harass farmers for plowing fields that they historically grew crops on. Under this rule, the EPA could fine farmers thousands of dollars if they simply rotated from one crop to another on their own land without first gaining permission that could take years to receive from Washington bureaucrats.
That rule was immediately challenged in court and was thankfully withdrawn via a 2017 executive order by former President Donald Trump. Unfortunately, the Biden administration and its “green new deal” agenda are determined to bring back the overreaching rule for good, and with it, uncertainly that will make it more difficult for American farmers to produce the food we eat, home builders to make new family homes, and to produce cheap and abundant American energy. This rule doesn’t just affect farming but every potential land use in the country.
A puddle on the property is a far cry from “navigable water,” which is what Congress originally gave the EPA jurisdiction over. The Biden administration is seeking to expand government control by giving the EPA jurisdiction over every puddle in America, and with it, the land the puddles rest on.
I am hopeful that in this fall’s case of Sackett II, the Court reaffirms Congress’ Article 1 power and sets the necessary restrictions on agency bureaucrats as they did in West Virginia v. EPA. The power to invent new rules from 40-year-old laws needs to end and this Supreme Court is the one to do it.
• Doug LaMalfa is an American politician serving as the U.S. representative for California’s 1st Congressional District since 2013.