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Western Business Roundtable

Poll Results Back Group's Stance Against Expansion Of Clean Water Act

H.R. 2421/S. 1870 – the ‘Oberstar bill’ - would impact a whole range of economic activities not currently covered by the CWA and give Feds too much control over local water and land use

GOLDEN, Co. (Feb. 27, 2008) – The Western Business Roundtable today announced poll results that show strong public support for the Roundtable’s stance against changes to the federal Clean Water Act.

A survey conducted earlier this month by Public Opinion Strategies shows 63 percent of respondents oppose changes to the Clean Water Act, which for 35 years has helped ensure that Americans enjoy among the cleanest rivers and lakes in the world. Of that 63 percent, 47 percent “strongly oppose” any change in the CWA that would give the federal government veto power over state and local governments when it comes to local land and water use decisions.

The survey also said 58 percent of respondents would oppose any change in law that would “transfer the authority to the federal government over groundwater, ditches, pipes, streets, gutters and desert features within every state and community.”

Legislation being considered by Congress – the “Clean Water Restoration Act of 2007” – would change the CWA, and it has set the stage for what many in the Western U. S. consider an unprecedented attack on the state sovereignty of the region.

The bill - H.R. 2421/S. 1870, sponsored by U.S. Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.) in the House and Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) in the Senate - would dramatically expand the reach of the federal bureaucracy over virtually every wet area in the United States. Roundtable President and CEO Jim Sims has noted the Oberstar bill “would fundamentally erode the ability of Westerners, and state governments in particular, to manage their water resources and would cause an avalanche of new unfunded mandates for state and local governments.”

Only 24 percent of poll respondents supported expanded federal authority. The poll of 800 registered voters was conducted Feb. 6-7 and Feb. 9-10, 2008, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percent.

Sims, in a letter this week to state legislators across the nation, said the Oberstar bill would 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.”

Added Sims: “In short, this legislation amounts to one of the most breathtaking expansions of federal hegemony over Western states in many years.”

The Western Business Roundtable has taken the lead in organizing opposition to this legislation. In December the Roundtable sponsored a press conference on Capitol Hill where congressional and state lawmakers, along with agriculture and business leaders, spoke out against the Oberstar bill. Among the speakers was U.S. Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), ranking member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Said Mica: “There is clearly growing opposition to this legislation. It's a very serious issue and any aspect of our society would be adversely affected by this bill."

"It would lead to a host of unintended consequences and probably lead to a field day for attorneys. It would be a disaster for business, industry and agriculture. It would hurt farmers, ranchers, and particularly small-business people. It would create absolute chaos. It would extend the federal government's reach to the gutters and downspouts of your home."

For more information about that press conference, and to listen to statements from other lawmakers who oppose the bill, click here.

The CWRA was introduced as a way to broaden protections under the Clean Water Act by bringing all U.S. waters under the control of the federal government. 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.

The Roundtable, along with groups such as the Partnership for America, American Farm Bureau Federation, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, American Property Coalition, Property Rights Alliance and Americans for American Energy, believes there is no need to change the existing Clean Water Act.

Said Sims: “The Oberstar legislation would reopen the CWA and turn it into a tool to carry out an unprecedented attack on state and local sovereignty. It would give the federal government veto power over local land use decisions, and jurisdiction over virtually every wet area in the West.

“It’s a threat to private landowners’ rights because it would give the Feds authority to tell citizens and local governments what they can or can’t do with their own water.”

The CWRA expands the jurisdictional sweep of the Clean Water Act by changing the waters to be regulated from “navigable waters” to “waters of the United States.”

The Roundtable has several specific concerns, including:

1) That the legislation 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.

2) That the legislation 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.

3) That H.R. 2421/S. 1870 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.

4) That the legislation 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.

5) That H.R. 2421/S. 1870’s expanded definition would burden state and local governments both administratively and financially. A broad expansion of the CWA’s jurisdiction would put unfunded mandates on those entities, including requirements to adopt water quality standards (including monitoring and reporting).

It 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.

6) That the legislation would cause water providers, landowners and water-use entities’ liability risk to grow.

Under an expanded CWA, citizen suit liability and exposure for attorney 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, backed by its members along with several other organizations, and also by today’s poll showing strong voter support for its stance, asks those in Congress to stand up for the West and the United States by actively opposing H.R. 2421/S. 1870 and other efforts to expand the CWA.




              Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:14 AM  Pacific

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