Regulatory Commissars

Trump Bridles Obama's Water Power Grab Rules

The president has rolled back yet another of his predecessor's regulatory power grabs.

Jordan Candler · Sep. 13, 2019

For most people, getting fined millions of dollars or being thrown into the slammer because of some innocuous violation of federal water rules seems unfathomable. But this isn’t hyperbole. Thanks to the Obama administration, fines and/or imprisonment for violating the Clean Water Rule (a.k.a “Waters of the U.S.”) became a real possibility if you weren’t paying close enough attention to the onerous regulations it imposed. And that’s assuming paying close enough attention even mattered.

We documented one such case back in March 2017. At the time, a farmer by the name of John Duarte was handed a $2.8 million fine. His sin? Plowing and planting wheat on his own land, which was lodged in wetlands. The government concluded that Duarte had failed to obtain certain permits and was thus liable for nearly $3 million in punitive fees. This was in addition to the government’s blatantly ignoring agricultural exemptions.

It gets worse.

As The Daily Caller further reveals, “In a 2016 case … Navy veteran Joe Robertson was criminally prosecuted and served 18 months in prison because he dug ponds around his Montana home in the hopes of keeping wildfires at bay. The ponds were connected to a foot-wide ‘river,’ so the EPA determined that Robertson had been digging too close to ‘navigable water’ without a permit.”

Thankfully, sanity is being restored.

According to an op-ed published Thursday by EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler and Army for Civil Works Assistant Secretary R.D. James, “Today, EPA and the Department of the Army will finalize a rule to repeal the previous administration’s overreach in the federal regulation of waters and wetlands. This action officially ends an egregious power grab and sets the stage for a new rule that will provide much-needed regulatory certainty for farmers, home builders, and property owners nationwide.”

In other words, the rule is being compressed into what Wheeler and James say is “one standard that can advance economic development and environmental protection.” Obviously, ensuring that our water remains clean is a noble endeavor. But undermining property rights through onerous regulation isn’t the way to achieve it.

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