Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman James Oberstar (D-MN) announced legislation to dramatically increase the scope of the Clean Water Act, bringing nearly every body of water - from irrigation canals, small ponds to seasonal mud-puddles - under the unlimited jurisdiction of the federal government. The legislation’s removal of the word “navigable” from the current definition of the Clean Water Act would effectively allow all waters to be subject to new and sweeping federal regulations and permitting.
The Oberstar bill, formerly (and in the Senate, still) known as the “Clean Water Restoration Act,” now renamed in the House the “America’s Commitment to Clean Water Act,” is the most extreme assault on property rights in the history of the United States.
This bill expands regulatory authority to “activities affecting these waters,” an extremely broad provision to regulate land hidden inside a water bill.
In testimony to Congress in 2007, Reed Hopper of the Pacific Legal Foundation, the lead counsel in the successful Rapanos Supreme Court case, said this about an earlier version of the Oberstar bill:
“This definition of federal authority is not a ‘restoration’ of congressional intent. It far exceeds the jurisdictional scope of the current Clean Water Act as it appears in the text of the statute. It even exceeds the extravagant scope of the existing federal regulations on which this definition is, in part, based. Indeed, with its claim of authority over ‘all interstate and intrastate waters’ this bill pushes the limits of federal power to an extreme not matched by any other law, probably in the history of this country. Neither an ornamental pond not the proverbial kitchen sink are excluded.”
Clean water is a worthy goal, and our country has made remarkable progress towards it. But such a vast federal power grab will undermine local decisions and obliterate private property rights. Congress appears determined to seize power over all aspects of our lives, but most Americans understand the wisdom of our Constitutional system and know that local land and water regulation should remain local.
If members of Congress move forward with Oberstar’s massive water and land grab,we the voters must remember and vote accordingly in November.