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Fighting Regulatory Dark Matter

If you’ve spent enough time in a public school or listening to cable news, you are probably convinced to some extent that regulations exist to protect the American citizenry, whether physically or financially. However, if you’ve been paying attention to reality, you will recognize that it is quite the opposite. The regulatory state has been weaponized against everyday Americans.

Thankfully, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), under the leadership of Acting Administrator Russ Vought, is seeking to curb the bureaucratic bullying that happens all too often across the country.

They are seeking to codify two executive orders by the Trump administration that promote transparency. It would limit the use of so-called “guidance documents” in bringing enforcement actions against American citizens. It would also ensure that victims of bureaucratic bullying are given the opportunity to see said documents, be warned beforehand, and have greater standing to challenge any action brought against them.

This is not a result of paranoia about the vast power of the state. This is happening to working men, women, and families across the country to this day.

Andy Johnson owns a small farm in Wyoming with his family. He wanted to build a pond for his four daughters’ horses to drink and graze on their land. Andy and his wife Katie worked with Wyoming engineers to dig out this pond, fill it with filtered water, and create a habitat for various wildlife.

This all seems like a rather idyllic picture of the quintessential American dream. That was, until two years later, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) came knocking on their door. They notified the Johnsons that they were in violation of the Clean Water Act - despite clear documentation from the state of Wyoming indicating that they weren’t. The EPA, with its arsenal and all, assured the Johnsons they would be fined $16 million if they did not comply and destroy the pond.

Sadly, the Johnsons do not find themselves alone in this predicament. As documented by Conservative Partnership Institute’s Rachel Bovard, there are a number of similar cases all over America:

In 2007, Mike and Chantell Sackett were threatened by the EPA with $75,000 a day in fines for trying to build a house on their own property, across the road and 500 feet away from Priest Lake in Idaho.

Charles Johnson, a Massachusetts cranberry farmer, spent millions of dollars fighting the agency for 22 years for the right to farm his own land. He finally settled in 2012, at the age of 80.

Kevin Lunny lost his family’s oyster company in California when the Department of the Interior granted itself limitless discretion to reissue the required permit and argued that Lunny didn’t have the right to sue.

In Alaska, the Army Corps of Engineers denied Richard Schok the ability to expand his pipe fabrication business when they claimed that permafrost — the subsurface layer of soil that remains frozen throughout the year — was actually a wetland.

There are real victims and real consequences to this bureaucratic bullying. Lifelong unelected bureaucrats are setting traps for the American people and not even giving them the chance to comply or fight back. This is not about protecting anyone or anything.

For too long the federal regulatory state has been giving too much leeway to operate as it pleases anyway. The Trump administration is fighting back and giving the public an opportunity to talk about how this issue can be resolved. OMB has a public comment period open until March 22nd for the public to make their voices heard.

It is time to significantly roll back the regulatory state and put more power and freedom in the hands of everyday Americans. Families trying to find a better way to water their horses are not criminals. It’s time to give folks like them the upper hand.