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Opinion: Columnists

If it's wet, EPA wants to regulate it

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Opinion,Ron Arnold,Columnists,EPA

Few outrages perpetrated by President Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency can match its proposed rule titled “Definition of ‘Waters of the United States’ Under the Clean Water Act.” It would remove “navigable” from American water law and take federal command of all “waters of the United States,” or WOTUS.

It redefines “waters” as nearly everything that could get wet, including most of the land in America.

Under WOTUS, every seasonal stream bed, puddle and ditch in the nation would be ruled by the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers’ armed enforcers, bypassing Congress and sidestepping the U.S. Supreme Court in the process. Congress is helpless to stop it — EPA-loving Democrats have a death grip on Senate bills and there aren’t the votes to override Obama’s certain veto. The Supreme Court has twice struck down major pieces of the proposed rule, which the EPA blithely ignored and merely changed the words, hired scientific shills to patch over the flaws, and created this new battering ram to shatter the gates that guard America’s property rights.

EPA has been buying support from Big Green groups on water issues since at least 1994, which came to light in an inspector general report of three cooperative agreements to the Natural Resources Defense Council totaling $3,260,467 for “storm water education” and “market transformation of energy efficient products” from 1994 to 2005.

The IG reported, “We questioned $1,419,548 of reported outlays because [NRDC] did not maintain the necessary documentation to fully support the reported costs, as required by Federal regulations.”

Big Green foundations have been lusting after WOTUS power since the late 1990s. Foundation Search shows 74 Clean Water Act grants totaling $5,261,449 since 2002, Barack Obama’s last year on the Joyce Foundation board (1994-2002). Joyce gave $220,000 in CWA-related grants, $100,000 of it to NRDC in 2002. NRDC received $705,000 in 13 CWA-related grants from four foundations.

But dumbfounding as WOTUS is, that’s not what makes this horror extraordinary. The fury ignited by WOTUS — an entry in the Federal Register that could easily be ignored as just another technical bureaucratic maneuver — is what’s remarkable: Where the rule says “water,” a substantial public correctly hears “land.” They get it. They really get it.

WOTUS strikes many as the most vicious land grab since Lenin returned to St. Petersburg. The EPA’s intent, unlike its usual smokescreen of lies, is transparent. And that annoys people. It annoys them very, very much. Here’s why I say that:

In June, when Bob Stallman testified before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee as president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, it was no surprise that he told them, “The bottom line is that the expansion of the waters regulated under the Clean Water Act has enormous implications for small business entities that the agencies have not considered, much less explained. EPA is deliberately misleading the regulated community.”

He was politely saying he was perfectly aware that WOTUS would give federal regulators unlimited power to dictate how farmers farm, and he didn’t trust EPA’s promise to exempt farmers’ irrigation ditches. Farmers can smell EPA land-grab lies even under a heap of WOTUS manure.

Stallman told me at the time, “I’ve been farming for decades and I can tell you that ditches are meant to carry water. Ditches will be regulated under this rule!”

I discovered that the American Farm Bureau was taking steps to protect its 6 million member families in an astonishingly well-designed website called Ditch the Rule. It’s a Farm Bureau effort with all the social media clickables, hashtags and tweet buttons, including Ditches & puddles are not navigable.#DitchTheRule and Congress, not federal agencies, makes the laws.#WOTUS, among others. (Full disclosure: I tweeted them all and got a lot of retweets.)

The Farm Bureau is a trade association obligated to guard farmer interests, so the real surprise came in an email from an unrelated nonprofit that jumped in with a Ditch the Rule campaign of its own just because it was the right thing to do: the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow, which usually deals with climate change, energy and poverty issues.

I asked CFACT Executive Director Craig Rucker about it. “We almost didn’t pick it up because it seemed off-target for our supporters, but with farmers taking on this huge WOTUS problem to save themselves, we just couldn’t stand by and do nothing.

“Astonishingly, we only started our Ditch the Rule campaign two weeks ago and last week our Facebook page got over a million hits. Our supporters get it. WOTUS has hit a nerve in America, a really big nerve.”

I asked Mace Thornton, the Farm Bureau’s communications executive director, whether he was aware that CFACT had joined the fray. He wasn’t, but welcomed the help. “We’ve been encouraging our members to share their individual stories through social media and they’ve responded overwhelmingly. It’s good to know our reach is extending far beyond our organization. We know our work has only begun.”

The EPA is sweating. There’s a page on the EPA website trying lamely to discredit Farm Bureau facts. EPA should sweat. I sense an incipient mass movement targeting WOTUS. It is not inconceivable that fed-up citizens could appear on farms across the nation in peaceful protests to face down EPA enforcers and say, “Ditch the Rule.”

RON ARNOLD, a Washington Examiner columnist, is executive vice president of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise.
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