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EPA water rule is blow to Americans’ private property rights

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Respect and protection of private property rights sets the United States apart from other nations and has fueled the greatest expansion of economic freedom the world has ever known. Indeed, private property rights are among the foundational rights of any democracy, not just ours.

{mosads}President Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency currently stands poised to strike the greatest blow to private property rights the modern era has seen, through a proposed rule that radically expands EPA jurisdiction by placing virtually all land and water under the heavy regulatory hand of the federal government.

For years, the EPA’s regulatory jurisdiction has been limited to the “navigable waters” of the United States, a term that has always been understood to include only large bodies of water capable of serving as pathways for interstate commerce. Regulation of all other waters was, rightly, left to the states.

Unhappy with the limited scope of the jurisdiction given to it by Congress, the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers have simply redefined the meaning of “navigable waters” in an extraordinary way, to include virtually every body of water in the nation right down to the smallest of streams, farm ponds and ditches.

The result of this startling grab is that virtually every property owner in the nation will now be subject to the unpredictable, unsound and often Byzantine regulatory regimes of the EPA. Worse yet, the states are cut out of the loop altogether, leaving landowners to lobby distant federal bureaucrats when the system wrongs them — and wrong them it will.

Simply put, the proposed rule is breathtaking in its overreach, and flatly contrary to the will of Congress, which, with the passing of the Clean Water Act, decided that the states should plan the development and use of local land and water resources.

Being from Kentucky and Oklahoma, we have seen firsthand how the federal government, specifically the EPA, abuses its regulatory power in states that have interests in energy, farming and ranching. Our states are not, and shouldn’t be used as, vessels to carry out the misguided ideas of big-government bureaucrats in Washington regardless of the consequences to the economy and to Americans’ property rights.

We have both taken action to stop this proposed rule, including filing comments with the EPA urging it to abandon the idea, and introducing legislation in the U.S. Senate that would block the rule.

If we fail, we will all live in a regulatory state where farmers must go before the EPA to seek permission to build a farm pond to keep their livestock alive, where homebuilders must seek EPA approval before beginning construction on a housing development that contains a dry creek bed, and where energy producers are left waiting for months or even years to get permits from the EPA, costing the producers tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of dollars that inevitably will be passed on to consumers.

That is why failure is not an option. The EPA’s rule is unlawful and must be withdrawn. We urge the EPA to meet with state-level officials who can help the agency understand the careful measures that states already have in place to protect and develop the lands and waters within their borders. We urge the EPA to listen to Congress regarding the intent of the law to limit the regulation of non-navigable waters. But most of all, we urge the EPA to take note of the harm that its rule will do to the property rights of the average American.

Paul is Kentucky’s junior senator, serving since 2011. He sits on the Foreign Relations; the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs; the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions; and the Small Business and Entrepreneurship committees. Pruitt, a Republican, has been Oklahoma’s attorney general since 2011.


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