Rep. Collins calls proposed EPA rules on waterways 'overreach,' a burden on agriculture
Congressman Chris Collins (NY-27) today questioned Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Deputy Administrator, Honorable Robert W. Perciasepe, at a Science, Space, and Technology Committee hearing on the EPA’s overreaching rule proposal entitled “Definition of the ‘Waters of the United States’ Under the Clean Water Act.”
“The problem is the public doesn't trust the EPA, farmers don't trust the EPA not to overreach, Congress doesn't trust the EPA,” said Congressman Collins during today’s hearing.
“Deputy Administrator Perciasepe and the EPA fail to recognize that their agency’s overreach is causing real harm for farmers and stalling business development across our country,” Congressman Collins said. “When I visit with farmers in my district, the heavy burdens under the Clean Water Act come up each and every time. When the bureaucrats at the EPA decide to call a divot in the ground that fills with rain a ‘navigable waterway’ under the CWA, we know our federal government has run amuck. The fact that the EPA and U.S. Army Corp of Engineers are now looking to formally broaden the definition of ‘navigable waters’ is an insult to hard working farmers all across this country.”
How does one reconcile a body as partisan, untrustworthy and capricious as Congress with a statement by one of its members describing another agency of government as untrustworthy? Does one assume the target of Mr. Collins' rhetoric to be extra-untrustworthy? Or does one suppose that the label "untrustworthy" when applied by an untrustworthy source should be taken as the opposite? While I sort out my converse from inverse from contrapositive let's just assume we all know what well-water is and we all know what cow manure is and none of us want the two to share the same space.
Regardless of our level of trust in either the legislative or executive branches of government, there is no doubt that the EPA has bastardized the definition of the word "navigable" in order to expand the controlling reach of the Clean Water Act.
The term "Navigable Water" was first used in the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899 which made it illegal to dispose of refuse into the navigable waters, and tributaries thereof, of the United States. Navigable waters in this act was defined by the US Army Corps of Engineers to include all waters affected by the ebb and flow of the tide and traditionally used for interstate or international commerce. The Corps still use this definition of navigable waterways today to assert their control over ports, rivers, lakes, etc., but they claim the definition of "navigable waterways" is up for separate interpretation under the Clean Water Act.
The Clean Water Act, passed in 1972, was also meant to assert control only over the navigable waterways and their tributaries, but many years of interpretation in the courts has dramatically expanded the reach of the Clean Water Act.
The current expansion of the CWA is tied to the use of the terms "significant nexus". The EPA and Corps of Engineers assert that the CWA applies to all waters that have a significant nexus to tributaries of all navigable waters. There is no definition of "significant nexus" in the proposed amendment of the CWA, so the EPA and Corps, and eventually another court ruling, are left to specifically define what constitutes a significant nexus.
Under the proposed expansion, the CWA would essentially cover all water in Western New York as it has a significant nexus to the tributaries which drain into the Great Lakes. This means that all roadside and other drainage ditches, seasonally wet areas, and even puddles would be under the jurisdiction of the federal government.
Under the CWA, any modification of these waters (routine maintenance or otherwise), would require a Section 404 Permit from the Corps of Engineers before work may proceed. This permit is very cumbersome and time-consuming; and depending on the conditions of the permit, can be very expensive to comply with.
Of course the intent of the expanded CWA is noble. We all want clean water. However, the involvement of the federal government is going to make it nearly impossible and very expensive for local governments, farmers, developers, and even individual private property owners and homeowners. All will suffer the costs of poor drainage as a result of delayed or even no maintenance of normal drainage channels. This will impact farms, septic systems, road conditions and safety.
The federal government has gone a step too far with this expansion of the CWA.
In regards to the protection of wetlands, New York State's Freshwater Wetlands Protection Act is a much better piece of legislation than that the weakly worded Clean Water Act, specifically Section 404. New York State should be managing its own water resources. Of course that would mean using the nearly $50 million stuck in the NYS Conservation Fund for actual conservation efforts, and not to fund Governor Cuomo's slush. The Fund revenue comes primarily from the sale of hunting, fishing and trapping licenses. According to State law, this revenue should only be used to support the State’s fish, wildlife and marine resources.