Coalition Letter: Coalition Letter on the Clean Water Restoration Act

  • Coalition Letter on the Clean Water Restoration Act October 9, 2007 The Honorable Nancy Pelosi Speaker of the U.S. House of Representative H-232, U.S. Capitol Washington, DC 20515 Dear Speaker Pelosi: A bill is now making its way through the House that would, according to one legal expert, push “the limits of federal power to an extreme not matched by any other law, probably in the history of this country.” The bill, the Clean Water Restoration Act (H.R. 2421) is sponsored by Rep. James Oberstar. A similar bill, S. 1870, has been introduced by Sen. Russell Feingold in the Senate. The Clean Water Restoration Act seeks ostensibly to restore protections under the Clean Water Act lost due to Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006 and to clarify which waters would be subject to regulation under the act. We’re concerned, however, that the Clean Water Restoration Act would achieve the opposite: It would expand the scope of the Clean Water Act far beyond its original intent while increasing confusion over what is and isn’t to be protected. In addition, we believe the bill runs counter to the principle of accountable government as it seeks to transfer legislative power from elected officials to those appointed for life. These shortcomings have significant implications for retirees, families, farmers, ranchers and owners of small businesses – many of whom have a significant portion of their net worth tied up in homes, lots or other real estate. With the real estate market already down and foreclosures due to subprime mortgage problems likely to drive it down further, the last thing that we need is government regulation that would diminish property values further. In the 30+ years that the Clean Water Act has been on the books, there’s been considerable uncertainty over what is subject to federal regulation. As a Government Accountability Office report notes, “[Army Corps of Engineers]… districts differ in how they interpret and apply the federal regulations when determining what wetlands and other waters fall within the jurisdiction of the federal government.” The absence of clear and consistent standards under the Act has led to abuse. The Honorable Nancy Pelosi October 9, 2007 page 2 Floridian Ocie Mills and his son Carey, for example, were convicted of filling a “wetland” after placing clean fill dirt on mostly dry land. They ended up serving 21 months in prison. U.S. District Court Judge Roger Vinson later characterized the conviction this way: “This case presents the disturbing implications of the expansive jurisdiction which has been assumed by the United States Army Corps of Engineers under the Clean Water Act. In a reversal of terms that is worthy of Alice in Wonderland, the regulatory hydra which emerged from the Clean Water Act mandates… that a landowner who places clean fill dirt on a plot of subdivided dry land may be imprisoned for the statutory felony offense of ‘discharging pollutants into navigable waters of the United States.’” Despite Judge Vinson’s statement, Rep. Oberstar has defended this spectacular abuse and labeled the Millses “polluters,” arguing that “Mill [sic] was a well-known activist in the property rights movement; testimony in his case revealed that he wanted to challenge the authority of the Clean Water Act.” It seems that Representative Oberstar believes that participating in the political process and challenging overzealous regulators constitutes criminal conduct. This is a rather expansive view of federal authority, to say the least. Two U.S. Supreme Court cases, one in 2001 (Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) and another in 2006 (Rapanos v. U.S.), have significantly reduced the potential for abuse under the Clean Water Act. The Clean Water Act was intended to prevent pollution of “navigable waters” of the U.S. The Court’s decisions limit the federal government’s previously wide latitude to define “navigable” and exert federal authority. Isolated, non-navigable waters, for example, are no longer subject to regulation. Isolated drainage ditches with insignificant, intermittent flows also are no longer be subject to federal authority under the Clean Water Act. The Clean Water Restoration Act would restore the virtually limitless regulatory power federal agencies had assumed in contravention of congressional intent. The bill would give federal agencies authority over “all interstate and intrastate waters,” including non-navigable waters. As such, it not only seeks authority far beyond the original scope of the Clean Water Act, but beyond Congress’s constitutional powers, as “non-navigable” waters are unlikely to fall under the Commerce Clause, the principle enumerated power upon which Congress has relied for passage of environmental laws. Greater confusion over what waters are and are not subject to the Act would result, requiring the courts to attempt to sort things out. The bill would also permit Congress to abdicate its legislative responsibilities. It defines “waters of the United States,” in part, as “all waters… to the fullest extent that these waters, or activities affecting these waters, are subject to the legislative power of Congress under the Constitution,” effectively deferring to courts to determine what waters are subject to regulation. The Honorable Nancy Pelosi October 9, 2007 page 3 Further, the bill’s reference to “activities affecting these waters” could give federal agencies the ability to assume expansive authority over not only water, but land and the air, too. The expansive authority assumed by the federal government under the Clean Water Act has been poisonous to the rights of American citizens. As you begin your important work on this issue, we hope you will remember that one does not reduce the harmful effects of poison by increasing the dosage. Sincerely, David Ridenour Vice President National Center for Public Policy Research J. William Lauderback Executive Vice President The American Conservative Union John Berthoud* President National Taxpayers Union Steven C. Borell, P.E. Executive Director Alaska Miners Association Adrian T. Moore Vice President of Research Reason Foundation H. Sterling Burnett Senior Fellow National Center for Policy Analysis Helen Moore Executive Director Water for Life, Inc. Lenore Hardy Barrett State Representative Idaho Tracy Walton President, Gem County Farm Bureau Emmett, ID Paul A. Cleveland, Ph.D. Professor of Economics Birmingham-Southern College Paul M. Weyrich National Chairman Coalitions for America G. Ray Arnett Former President National Wildlife Federation Lori Roman Executive Director American Legislative Exchange Council Laura Skaer Executive Director Northwest Mining Association Larry Pratt Executive Director Gun Owners of America Chris Derry President Bluegrass Institute Dennis Hollingsworth State Senator California Timothy La Farge, Ph.D Forest Geneticist, Retired USDA Forest Service R.J. Smith Director Center for Private Conservation Chris Perkins Executive Director Coalition for a Conservative Majority Linda C. Runbeck President American Property Coalition Hon. Malcolm Wallop Chairman Frontiers of Freedom Fred Smith President Competitive Enterprise Institute Jim Handley Executive Vice President Florida Cattlemen’s Association Jim Martin President 60 Plus Association Mychal Massie Advisory Council Chairman Project 21 Caren Cowen Executive Director New Mexico Cattle Growers’ Association Randy T. Simmons Mayor, Providence City, UT Professor, Utah State University Niger Innis National Spokesman Congress of Racial Equality Leroy Watson Legislative Director National Grange The Honorable Nancy Pelosi October 9, 2007 page 4 Partnership for the West Kelsey Zahourek Executive Director Property Rights Alliance Lew Uhler President National Tax Limitation Committee Maxine and Ron Korman Korman Ranch Hinsdale, Montana Mark Pollot Justice Dept. Official, Reagan Admin., Instrumental Force behind Reagan Executive Order on Regulatory Takings Carol W. LaGrasse President Property Rights Foundation of America Paul Driessen Senior Policy Advisor Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise Tom DeWeese President American Policy Center Rachel Thomas Property Rights Advocate Huachuca City, AZ Paula Easley President Alaska Land Rights Coalition Richard O. Rowland President Grassroot Institute of Hawaii Judy Boyle Property Rights Activist Idaho John and Connie Morris Members, Tongue River Watershed Alliance, and MT and WY Farm Bureaus Ron and Glenda Frei Idaho County Farm Bureau Bill Moshofsky Vice President Oregonians In Action Thomas K. Remington Managing Editor U.S. Hunting Today Robert Sanchez Policy Director James Madison Institute Roger Jones Engineer Red River Coal Company, Inc. Mike Dail Chairman American Land Foundation Chuck Cushman President American Land Rights Association Candace Oathout Chair, Citizens Against Recreational Eviction—USA Christian J. Schoenewald Vice Chairman, VA 5th Congressional District Republican Committee John Taylor President Tertium Quids Michael S. Coffman President Environmental Perspectives, Inc. Chris Horgan Executive Director Stewards of the Sequoia Beth Machens Board of Aldermen City of West Alton, MO Dana Joel Gattuso Senior Fellow National Center for Public Policy Research Richard Falknor Executive Vice President Maryland Taxpayers Association, Inc. Roy Cordato, Ph.D. VP for Research and Resident Scholar John Locke Foundation Margaret Nachtigall Executive Director South Dakota Stock Growers Association Elizabeth Arnold Environmental Community Outreach Services, Juneau, AK Amy Ridenour Director Americans for the Preservation of Liberty Bruce A. Griffith President Griffith Lumber Co., Inc. E. Calvin Beisner Assoc. Prof. of Historical Theology and Social Ethics, Knox Theological Seminary Jerry Hamilton Environmental Coordinator Formation Capital Corporation, US Forest Thigpen President Mississippi Center for Public Policy C. Preston Noell III President Tradition, Family, Property, Inc. Steve Hammond President Citizens Alliance for Property Rights C.J. Hadley Publisher/Editor Range Magazine Bill Wilson President Americans for Limited Government Holt and Jane Hogan Chairman and Secretary-Treasurer Ontario Hardwood Company, Inc. Howard Hutchinson Executive Director Coalition of Arizona/New Mexico Counties The Honorable Nancy Pelosi October 9, 2007 page 5 Dane vonBreichenruchardt President U.S. Bill of Rights Foundation Dan Goulet Editor and Publisher Freedom Journal Brian Bishop Director Rhode Island Wise Use Bruce Colbert Executive Director Property Owners Association of Riverside County Dan Byfield President Liberty Matters Leri M. Thomas, Ph.D. Charter Member Virginians for Property Rights Katherine Lehman President People for the USA Grange #835 Don Corace Author, “Offshore: A Novel” Naples, FL Donald Castellucci, Jr. Councilman, Town of Owego Tioga County, NY Nancy Landt Member Santa Creek Land Owners Association Pete Ellsworth Culdesac, ID Stephanie Whalen President Hawaii Agriculture Research Center Teresa Platt Executive Director Fur Commission USA Leo M. Schwartz Chairman Virginia Land Rights Coalition Jonathan DuHamel President People for the West-Tucson Jack and Patricia Shockey President and Director Citizens for Property Rights Margaret Byfield Executive Director Stewards of the Range Jo Ann Roach President Sisters of the River Milari Madison Property Owner Loudoun County, VA Carol L. Brown Vancouver, WA Cliff McDonald Needles, CA Kay Teisl Executive Director Oregon Cattlemen’s Association Fred Grau Executive Director Take Back Pennsylvania Walt Harvey Director and Treasurer Grassroot Institute of Hawaii Harold L. Stephens Member Citizens to Protect the Confluence Jerry Fennell Chairman Jicarilla Mining District Timothy L. Ravndal President Montana Multiple Use Association Bonner R. Cohen, Ph.D. Senior Fellow National Center for Public Policy Research Joyce Morrison Citizens Action for Agricultural Property Rights Alexandra H. Mulkern Mechanicsville, MD Pamela Secord Santa, ID Stephen L. Ralston Columbia, PA For more information, contact: David Ridenour The National Center for Public Policy Research 501 Capitol Court, NE, Suite 200 Washington, DC 20002 (202) 543-4110 [email protected] *John Berthoud died on September 27, before this letter could be delivered.

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