State Leaders Join Ag, Business Leaders To Stop ‘Federal Water Grab Bill’

State Leaders Join With Agriculture & Business Leaders To Stop “Federal Water Grab Bill”

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Dec. 7, 2007) – Federal and state lawmakers joined with agriculture and business leaders in Washington, D.C., this week to launch a coordinated broadside against federal legislation that would take away state authority to regulate water and give the federal government power to regulate even wet ground in citizen’s backyards.

“It’s one of the most expansive power grabs over Western states and the West’s resources that I have seen in more than 20 years,” said Jim Sims, President and CEO of the Western Business Roundtable, which organized the joint press conference on Capitol Hill. “It’s an attack on virtually every farm, ranch, small business and homeowner in every state in the nation.”

“There is clearly growing opposition to this legislation,” said Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), ranking member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and one of a dozen speakers who called on Congress to defeat the bill. “It’s a very serious issue and any aspect of our society would be adversely affected by this bill.”

The legislation – H.R. 2421, sponsored by Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.) – would expand the federal Clean Water Act and give the federal government control over all waters of the United States, from the largest rivers and lakes to the smallest backyard ponds and puddles. The Senate version of the bill, S. 1870 – sponsored by Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) – is scheduled for a hearing Dec. 13, 2007.

The bill is formally known as the “Clean Water Restoration Act of 2007.” It amends the “Federal Water Pollution Control Act (commonly known as the Clean Water Act) to replace the term “navigable waters” with the term “waters of the United States.” The bill goes on to define those waters as everything from lakes, rivers and streams to wet grasslands and potholes, and says all U.S. waters would be “subject to the legislative power of Congress.”

Sims and Mica noted that the legislation would impact not only water utilities – driving up the cost of delivering water to municipalities – but also make it more costly to grow crops, and operate and maintain water storage facilities. Sims also pointed out that, under an expanded CWA, citizen lawsuit liability and exposure for attorneys 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.

“It would lead to a host of unintended consequences,” said Mica, “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.”

Several organizations, including trade associations such as the American Farm Bureau Federation, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, Property Rights Allliance, Americans For American Energy and the Partnership for America, also spoke in opposition to the bill.

Notably, state legislators from five states also joined in opposition:

  • “This legislation would devastate the economy of the state of Nebraska,” said state Sen. Vickie McDonald of Nebraska (District 41-Saint Paul). “We have three major exports – corn, beef, and ethanol. We’re just coming out of a seven-year drought … and we need irrigation water for those industries. This legislation would devastate whatever exports we have in the state of Nebraska.”
  • “Water is the lifeblood of New Mexico,” said state Sen. Steve Komadina of New Mexico (District 9-Corrales). “We’re a growing state (that’s) dependent upon water. To think that those in Washington will know better than those who live on the land is just amazing to me. Why do we even have state governments if the federal government is going to do everything?”
  • “The district I represent in Washington is largely agriculture, and it’s irrigated agriculture,” said state Sen. Jerome Delvin of Washington (District 8-Richland). “We depend on that (water) to grow our export crops. We already have (water) issues with the federal government. For (them) to come in again and put a new set of regulations (on us), I find pretty disturbing.”
  • State Rep. Susan Lynn of Tennessee (District 57-Mt. Juliet) said she’s already “well aware of what the federal regulations do and how they affect commerce in Tennessee. They cause us great additional expense. I just feel that this bill will negatively affect agriculture, economic development, commerce and recreation in Tennessee.”
  • “The citizens of our state have come together. We’ve worked cooperatively and productively on how to manage Wyoming’s water,” said state Rep. Dan Zwonitzer of Wyoming (District 43-Cheyenne). “We believe it would destroy the delicate fabric we’ve put in place if the federal government were to come in and trample (on us).”

    “The extent to which this bill would put the West and its water resources under the thumb of the federal government is simply astounding,” said Sims. The Roundtable sent a letter to each member of Congress in October outlining the adverse societal and economic impacts of the legislation.

    “This bill would give federal agencies domain over virtually every wet area in the West,” Sims said. “It will fundamentally erode the ability of Westerners, and state governments in particular, to manage our own water resources and cause an avalanche of new unfunded mandates to envelop state and local governments. There is virtually no business or job-creating activity in the West that would not be adversely affected by this bill. And there is no limit to the amount and breadth of opposition that we will help develop to this bill.”

    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. But by changing the Clean Water Act’s jurisdictional sweep from regulation of “navigable waters” to “waters of the United States,” the bill would have “a devastating impact on Western state sovereignty and virtually every citizen in our region,” Sims said.

    Kelsey Zahourek, executive director of the Property Rights Alliance, said her group has several concerns with the legislation.

    “We feel that including all waters under the purview of the Clean Water Act has serious property rights implications,” Zahourek said. “Placing restrictions on the management of private land impinges on Americans’ ability to utilize and prosper from the land as they see fit.”

    “If this bill becomes law, there will be more federal control (over water), less state and local control, and more litigation,” said Don Parrish, regulatory specialist with the American Farm Bureau Federation. “It is clearly going to throw into question 35 years of judicial precedent.”

    Greg Schnacke of Americans for American Energy, a nonprofit group that advocates the development of more domestic energy sources to foster U.S. energy independence, said “We see this bill as absolutely a blunt weapon against the siting, development and production of new forms of American energy, including renewable energy. This particular bill would be a litigator’s dream bill. And we think it will be used directly to try to stop many energy projects.”

    “We share the concerns of everybody here,” said Jeff Eisenberg of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. “This is a big … expansion of federal power and a trampling on the property rights of our members. H.R. 2421 is a revolution in the wrong way. (We’re) committed to seeing it defeated.”

    Oberstar’s bill was introduced on May 22 of this year and referred to the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure that day. It was referred to the Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment the following day. The bill has 172 co-sponsors.

    About the Roundtable

    The Western Business Roundtable is a nonprofit organization that unites a wide variety of business and industry leaders to work on a bipartisan basis for public policies that promote a common-sense balance between economic growth and environmental conservation. Learn more at

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