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Business Leaders Warn Of Congressional Power Grab Over Water ControlSalem-News.com
The legislation is known as the "Clean Water Restoration Act."
(GOLDEN, Co.) - Legislation quietly moving forward in the U.S. Congress would expand the federal government's control over U.S. waters to such an extent that even periodically wet ground would come under federal hegemony, a group of business leaders is warning.
"This bill represents one of the most expansive power grabs by the federal government over state and local control in memory," said Jim Sims, President and CEO of the Western Business Roundtable. "The extent to which this bill puts states and their water resources under the thumb of the federal government is simply astounding."
"This bill would give federal agencies domain over virtually every wet area in the nation. It will fundamentally erode the ability of citizens, and state governments in particular, to manage our own water resources. It would cause an avalanche of new un-funded mandates to envelop state and local governments."
Sims added: "It will make it more costly to grow crops, provide water to cities, operate and maintain water storage and delivery facilities, produce energy (including renewable power), build and maintain public transportation systems, deliver affordable goods and services to consumers and carry out virtually any activity that occurs on the land without federal agencies constantly threatening to interfere."
The legislation, known as the "Clean Water Restoration Act," is sponsored by Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.) in the House (H.R. 2421) and Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wisc.) in the Senate (S. 1870).
The bill’s sponsors contend U.S. waters are threatened due to Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006 that clarified which waters fall under federal jurisdiction. But by changing the Clean Water Act's jurisdictional sweep from regulation of “navigable waters” to “waters of the United States,” the bill would have "a devastating impact on Western state sovereignty and virtually every citizen in our region," Sims said.
"There is virtually no business or job-creating activity in the nation that would not be adversely affected by this bill," he added.
The Roundtable sent a letter to Congress earlier this week outlining its concerns about bill. It pointed out that the bill:
* Would expand the regulatory reach of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers to include essentially all arguably wet areas (or areas wet at some time) in the U.S., giving the federal government jurisdiction over groundwater, ditches, pipes, streets, gutters and desert features.
* Would expand the legal basis for the Clean Water Act, moving it beyond the current jurisdiction under the “commerce clause” in the U.S. Constitution, which limits congressional authority over water to the ability to regulate commerce. The new legislation would make congressional authority over any U.S. water virtually unlimited.
* Would essentially grant EPA and the Corps a veto over local land-use policies. Any activity involving water could be affected, including commercial and residential real estate development, agriculture, electric transmission, transportation, mining and energy development – even recreational activities.
* Would eliminate existing regulatory limitations that allow common sense uses such as prior converted cropland and waste treatment systems. Currently, the CWA’s rules acknowledge limitations covering those elements.
* Would implement an expanded definition of waters that would burden state and local governments both administratively and financially. A broad expansion of the CWA’s jurisdiction would put un-funded mandates on those entities, including requirements to adopt water quality standards (including monitoring and reporting).
* Would also impact land-use plans, floodplain regulations, building and other codes, watershed and storm water plans, and likely delay development of new projects and maintenance of existing infrastructure.
* Would cause water providers, landowners and water-use entities’ liability risk to grow.
Sims added that, under an expanded CWA, citizen suit liability and exposure for attorneys fees awards would increase for all landowners with water features on or near their properties. Similar concerns and risks would be faced by all water delivery and water-use entities.
The Roundtable said it has launched a region wide effort to build opposition to the bill.
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