Grassley wants WOTUS rule to ‘go back to the drawing board’

SONY DSCBy The Iowa Statesman


U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) made the following comment today after the Environment and Public Works Committee passed bipartisan legislation that would require the Environmental Protection Agency to completely revise with stakeholder input, including from the states, the Waters of the United States rule.  Grassley is a cosponsor of the bill.

“Instead of attempting to address the legitimate concerns raised during the open comment period, the EPA and its allies pushed their own agenda, attempting to drive support for the rule, while belittling the concerns of the public.  The EPA had its own end goal in mind, regardless of public opinion or the economic impact.  As written, the rule could result in significant red tape and expense for Iowa farmers as they make routine decisions about how best to use their land, even ironically hampering projects to improve water quality.

“The legislation that passed out of the Environment and Public Works Committee puts the EPA back on the job and requires them to start over with the rulemaking process.  It’s a necessary step to protect America’s waterways and protect farmers and other land owners.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee, which Grassley chairs, held a hearing Wednesday on the federal regulatory system.  The Waters of the United States rule was used as an example of a rulemaking process where the public’s role appeared to be minimalized.

He followed his statement up with a brief Q-and-A on the topic of WOTUS:

Q:  What is the federal rule known as “Waters of the United States?”

A:  The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Army Corps of Engineers released in May a final rule that broadly redefines the scope of a 1972 federal law enacted to protect America’s waterways from pollution. The ruling significantly widens the federal regulatory umbrella that implements the Clean Water Act, sweeping aside the congressional intent of the law, which says in plain language: “It is the policy of the Congress to recognize, preserve, and protect the primary responsibilities and rights of States to prevent, reduce, and eliminate pollution, to plan the development and use…of land and water resources, and to consult with the Administrator in the exercise of (his) authority under this chapter.” Instead, the federal rule steps into areas previously covered by state and local regulations, and in the process sweeps small property owners into its jurisdictional dragnet. Farmers may now need to consider whether even dry areas on their property such as streambeds, ditches and culverts fall under federal jurisdiction and enforcement. A farmer who knows his property like the back of his hand might have the EPA dictating permitting requirements to allow him to manage his own farm.  From a constitutional standpoint, the federal edict reflects yet another authoritarian erosion of our separate, but co-equal branches of government. This administration has launched unprecedented overreach that centralizes government authority and shrinks individual rights. WOTUS is among the most recent executive intrusions that underscore why our system of checks and balances is more important than ever.

Q:  Why do you oppose the final rule that was issued in May?

A: Let’s be clear about my concerns with the WOTUS rule. Water is an essential natural resource. People’s lives and livelihoods depend on healthy eco-systems and clean water for survival. But, expanding a bureaucratic federal permitting process beyond the scope that was intended would strain the capacity of federal officials and divert resources away from combating actual polluters. So, protecting and conserving water quality is not the issue. The question is the extent to which the executive branch is unilaterally exceeding its authority at the expense of good government. The public good (water quality) and good government (of, by and for the people) are not mutually exclusive. The final rule arguably muddies the constitutional waters that protect individual rights and ownership of private property. It invites an unending stream of uncertainty to hard-working Americans whose livelihoods depend on the management decisions they make for their farms and businesses.  Sound stewardship of natural resources, such as the soil that grows our food, the water we drink and the air we breathe, is a lifelong investment and point of pride for America’s farm families that goes back generations.

Q: What are you doing to address the flawed rule?

A: Reining in executive overreach requires action by the other two branches of government. It wouldn’t be surprising if affected individuals pursue due process in the courts. From the legislative branch, much of the problem stems from Congress writing laws that are too broad and delegating too much legislative power to the executive branch. In this case, when Congress wrote the Clean Water Act, it specified that the act was limited to “navigable waters.” And the law defined that term as “the waters of the United States” without further explanation. The entire rule in question is essentially a long definition of the term “waters of the United States” that fills in the details that Congress failed to specify. The best solution would be for Congress to go back and finish the job by more clearly defining what it meant by “navigable waters” in the Clean Water Act rather than leaving it to the EPA to decide the scope of its own authority. In fact, I am cosponsoring a bill to do just that. If that proves politically impossible in the short run, Congress should at least require the EPA to go back to the drawing board and work with the states and all of the relevant stakeholders to set clearer jurisdictional boundaries that more closely align with the intent of Congress and the relevant Supreme Court rulings.  Another bill I’m co-sponsoring that would make the EPA do just that passed out of committee and is moving to the full Senate for consideration. Congress needs to apply the brakes when an unelected bureaucracy rams through regulations that do not reflect the consent of the governed or uphold longstanding constitutional principles that guarantee the states’ role in our federal system and individual rights regarding private property. As chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I convened a hearing in June to examine our federal regulatory system that too often marginalizes public interest to advance narrow special interests. Using legislative and oversight tools, I’ll continue working to rein in a sweeping regulatory process that ignores the fundamental rule of thumb of self-government. Government conducts the people’s business and must answer to the people. Openness and transparency strengthen accountability and good government.