Every citizen of this country wants crystal-clean water, but virtually no one wants the federal government to monitor and control every last corner of the country in pursuit of that goal. Are these priorities compatible? Is it possible for the government to conduct reasonable, necessary environmental protection of our crucial waterways while leaving law-abiding citizens, private landowners, family farmers and outdoor recreationists alone?

According to President TrumpDonald John TrumpUS reimposes UN sanctions on Iran amid increasing tensions Jeff Flake: Republicans 'should hold the same position' on SCOTUS vacancy as 2016 Trump supporters chant 'Fill that seat' at North Carolina rally MORE and Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, the answer is a resounding ‘Yes’. I completely agree – here’s why:


Today, Administrator Wheeler unveiled a new plan for protecting rivers and other major bodies of water throughout the United States. Under the Clean Water Act, the administrator is legally required to have in place publicly-disclosed, predictable regulatory plans to secure environmental protection. Such protection starts with a definition: what constitutes “waters of the United States” as referenced in the Act?

The exact definition matters. Whatever gets called “navigable waters” is subject to significant regulatory control by the federal government. Everyone knows that when the Feds come in and tell you to jump, you have to respond “how high?” if you know what’s good for you. The issue at hand is whether the definition applies to major drinking water sources and other significant bodies, or truly to every “point water source” the Feds can get their hands on.

The Obama administration tried to make the case that “waters of the United States” refers not just to permanent bodies of navigable water, but to far smaller bodies of water including those that are tiny, seasonal or even ones that do not connect up with larger water systems. This was an astounding departure from longstanding interpretation of the Clean Water Act that expanded federal power to reach into every nook and cranny of our nation’s waterways under a flimsy Commerce Clause argument. Family farmers were kept awake at night, worried that rains wouldn’t let up before turning their puddles into regulated ponds and running them out of business in the process. Recreational water and marsh users were rightfully wary that federal regulators would invade their turf and suddenly declare their sport of choice too harmful on the waterway. Developers preemptively pulled out of projects deemed at high risk of falling under federal environmental jurisdiction – all because the Feds may declare a nearby ditch jurisdictional.

And when they do declare jurisdiction, it’s not just water under the bridge. Individual Clean Water Act permits have taken an average of 788 days to process and $271,596 on the part of the applicant; fines and criminal liability await those who skirt these requirements. Lives and livelihoods are at stake.

Like a villain in Scooby Doo, the past administration almost got away with its unparalleled expansion of federal power. But this legally-dubious effort was unmasked for what it was by the Supreme Court. Justice Antonin Scalia wrote incredulously of the Obama “WOTUS” rule in Rapanos v. United States, “On this view, the federally regulated ‘waters of the United States’ include storm drains, roadside ditches, ripples of sand in the desert that may contain water once a year, and lands that are covered by floodwaters once every 100 years.” The late Justice’s opinion wisely, shrewdly picks apart the significant legal and historical problems underlying the past administration’s approach – and is characteristically entertaining, too. I encourage you to read it for an enlightened opinion, because you unfortunately won’t hear one from the media on this subject.

Instead, the Trump administration’s action today will be marketed as an “attack on clean water”, even though the United States had the cleanest waterways in the world for the decades prior to the issuance of this new land and water-grab. Some journalists – who clearly do not even understand the function of the Clean Water Act – have even been claiming that changing the definition of “navigable waters” will speed up climate change!

The truth is different. This new definition will reestablish federal oversight in accordance with the Constitution and the original intention of the Clean Water Act. States will continue to establish to their individual liking and needs the pollution standards for any smaller bodies of water; likewise, those that are significant or that cross interstate boundaries will still be rightfully subject to federal jurisdiction. The new regulation makes it clear who is and who isn’t under Clean Water Act jurisdiction. And, if states want to regulate individual ditches, they are empowered to do so under the Constitution. But the absurdity of a maniacal federal government cannon-balling into even the tiniest of waterways threatened to create a tidal wave washing away all common sense and legal restraint. Thanks to President Trump and Administrator Wheeler, our nation will thankfully dodge this regulatory tsunami.

Gosar represents Arizona’s 4th District and is chairman of the Congressional Western Caucus.