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Jeff Eisenberg, right, executive director of the Public Lands Council, fills in rancher Dave Nelson, left, and ag broadcaster Evan Slack on the happenings on Capitol Hill during the Idaho Cattle Convention in Jackpot, Nev. on June 23.
Response to CWRA: www.nationalcenter.org/TSR062408.html
Implications for sportsmen: www.nationalcenter.org/NPA567.html

Clean Water Act raises hackles

Wide range of interests oppose Senate Bill 787

Carol Ryan Dumas
Capital Press July 2, 2009

Farm groups and other organizations are decrying a Senate bill that would give more power to federal agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, under the Clean Water Act.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on June 18 passed SB787, the Clean Water Restoration Act, on a 12-7 party-line vote.

The move brings the country one step closer to the largest federal land grab in our history, the National Cattlemen's Beef Association said.

Under current law, the federal government has jurisdiction over "navigable waters of the United States." However, by removing the word "navigable" from the definition, the CWRA would expand federal regulatory control to unprecedented levels, essentially putting stock tanks, drainage ditches, any puddle or water feature found on family farms and ranches - potentially even ground water - under the regulatory strong arm of the federal government, NCBA contends.

"The Clean Water (Restoration) Act is about as bad a deal that's come down the wire in a long time," Jeff Eisenberg, executive director of the Public Lands Council, said Tuesday, June 23, at the Idaho Cattle Association's mid-year convention in Jackpot, Nev. "It's possibly worse than the Endangered Species Act."

Eisenberg said the Public Lands Council is concerned about what it would mean to have the act cover all waters of the United States.

"The Public Lands Council believes that's a big problem for property owners everywhere because it'll potentially make all waters on the person's land subject to regulation by the EPA," he said.

NCBA and the Public Lands Council oppose the legislation because it infringes on private property rights limits state partnerships and the flexibility that have made the current Clean Water Act arguably the most successful environmental law on the books.

The bill would expand federal jurisdiction over private farms and ranches that would be disastrous to U.S. agriculture, the groups contend.

David Ridenour, vice president of the National Center for Public Policy, agreed. "It's a bad, bad bill," he said.

Sponsors of the bill argue the act would simply restore authority to federal agencies under the Clean Water Act.

The even bigger issue, in Ridenour's opinion, is that the act extends regulations to "activities affected by these waters." but it doesn't define what those activities might be.

"I don't think there is anyone who can definitively say what those activities are," Ridenour said. "This would be a field day for overzealous bureaucrats. It's a blank check."

The bill was amended to exempt prior-converted croplands from federal jurisdiction. However, cattle are often grazed on land that is not prior-converted croplands, so this amendment does nothing to mitigate the potential damage to livestock production from this legislation, according to NCBA..

NCBA's and PLC's joint letter to committee members states: "This bill is unnecessary and unjustifiable and sets a dangerous precedent towards the continuing erosion of our fundamental constitutional rights as American citizens. No compromise or exemption will cover all of the farms and ranches in the U.S. To fully protect agriculture, the term 'navigable' must remain in the Clean Water Act."

Whether the bill will pass is unknown.

Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, a member of the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee, voted against the bill and is threatening a filibuster.

"This bill threatens the current Clean Water Act statute and would allow for government regulation of virtually all interstate and intrastate waters and their tributaries, including rivers, intermittent streams, mudflats, sand flats, prairie potholes, wet meadows, playa lakes, natural ponds and others," Crapo said in a press release. "It also would grant federal regulators new and expanded authority over activities affecting these waters, which has serious implications for commerce. I intend to use every tool and privilege afforded to slow or stop this ill-conceived attack on Idaho's sovereignty over managing its water."

Ridenour said the bill would need 60 votes to get out of the Senate, and it faces opposition from "literally hundreds" of organizations.

"Many senators from farm states are against this bill," he said, but cautioned that some legislators are using strong-handed tactics to get their favored legislation passed.

"Crapo is opposed to it," Eisenberg said. "I'm cautiously optimistic the Clean Water Act is not going to get off the floor. We're hopeful we're going to be able to block its enactment this year."

Staff writer Carol Ryan Dumas is based in Twin Falls. E-mail: crdumas@capitalpress.com.
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