EPA Violating Private Property Rights

The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) desire to regulate the American people seems to never end. In the name of ‘protecting the environment’, the EPA has crossed the line one to many times. 

Its newest objective involves preventing private citizens and businesses from using water, resting on their own land, the way they see fit. The Clean Water Act (CWA) of 1972 made it unlawful to discharge any pollutant from a point source into navigable waters, unless a permit was obtained from the EPA’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES). But this wasn’t enough power for the EPA. Early this year, the EPA issued draft guidance on “Identifying Waters Protected by the Clean Water Act.” Through this act the EPA is attempting to drastically expand the powers given to it by the CWA by trying to regulate ditches and gullies on private property arguing that non-point sources are the cause of pollution in navigable bodies of water.  

Back in June of 2011, Representative Jim Oberstar (D–Minn.) and Senator Russ Feingold (D–Wis.) tried to expand the powers of the EPA by introducing legislation that would replace the term “navigable waters” in the CWA with “waters of the U.S.” This attempt at expanding the regulatory power of the EPA was stopped, yet the EPA continues to use backdoor means to expand its jurisdiction. Congress has a history of stopping the EPA’s federal power grab yet it continues to try to enforce draconian mandates without approval from Congress. 

Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has this to say about the EPA’s federal jurisdiction grab: 

“This federal jurisdiction grab has been opposed by Congress for years, and now the administration and its agencies are ignoring law and rule making procedures in order to tighten their regulatory grip over every water body in the country…this administration needs to realize it is not above the law.”

Many Americans have been victims of the EPA’s federal land grab. Back in 2005 Mike and Chantell Sackett purchased three-quarters of an acre in Idaho in order to build a new house. They obtained permits and verification from the state and local governments in Idaho, and started building in 2007. Enter the EPA. Agents arriving on their property threatened to fine them $37,500 a day, arguing that their property was considered a ‘wetland.’ Under the CWA, the EPA argued it had the power to “protect” land even from its own owners. The Sackett’s although owning the land, did not have the freedom to do with it what they liked.

Thankfully, the case was brought before the Supreme Court, which ruled unanimously that the landowners have the right to due process in challenging the validity of arbitrary compliance orders before any enforcement action is taken by the EPA. However, after all this, the Sacketts would still have to comply with the EPA’s order if a judge rules that their property is a wetland and can be regulated under the CWA. 

So what is to be done about the EPA’s continued violation of the private property of American citizens? Last month, the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee approved legislation to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) from dramatically and illegally expanding federal power to regulate water and land use under the Clean Water Act (CWA). 

Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee Chairman Bob Gibbs (R-Ohio) says that the EPA must stop its backdoor efforts to increase its regulatory power. 

“It is unfortunate that the Agencies have chosen this backdoor approach to rulemaking instead of a proper, transparent process. If the Administration seeks statutory changes to the Clean Water Act, then a proposal should be submitted to Congress and we will have a healthy debate. Until that time, the current flawed process needs to stop.”

In the Senate, John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), and 26 other Senators have introduced legislation to stop the EPA from taking over all private water in the United States. This legislation, called the “Preserve the Waters of the U.S. Act”, prevents the EPA and the USACE from using their overreaching “guidance” to change legal responsibilities under the CWA.

The EPA’s new water guidance will make it harder for Americans to build in their backyards, grow crops, manage livestock, expand small businesses and carry out other activities on private lands. Contact your local Congressmen and tell them to support efforts in the House and Senate to stop the EPA from violating our property rights.