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January 5, 2023

EPA Reinstates Dubious Waterway Regulation

Joe Biden’s bureaucrats bring back an Obama-era power grab just for fun.

As 2022 was coming to an end, the Biden administration quietly reinstated a controversial Obama-era regulation that serves as little other than a giant government power grab. The Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers effectively resurrected the dubious redefinition of the “waters of the United States” found within the 1970 Clean Water Act.

Recall that during the Obama administration, the EPA broadly expanded the definition of “waters of the United States” to include nearly any body of water — virtually down to the size of a puddle. The definitional change was a massive expansion of the EPA’s regulatory power over Americans’ private property, with especially significant negative implications for ranchers and farmers.

Under Donald Trump, the dubious redefinition was one of numerous oppressive federal regulations that got rolled back. Predictably, several environmental activist groups objected that such deregulation would lead to the destruction of natural habitat, though that argument is merely a convenient smoke screen to cover the federal government power grab. Joe Biden and his bureaucrats at the EPA were only too happy to re-grab the power.

Following the reinstatement of the redefinition, Montana Senator Steve Daines observed: “This is a step in the wrong direction from the Biden administration, and it infringes on the rights of Montana farmers, ranchers and landowners. This overreaching rule threatens Montana [agricultural] and natural resources and is unacceptable.”

In justifying this latest power grab, the EPA cited “science.” “The rule returns to a reasonable and familiar framework founded on the pre-[Obama-era] definition with updates to reflect existing Supreme Court decisions, the latest science and the agencies’ technical expertise,” the EPA said. “It establishes limits that appropriately draw the boundary of waters subject to federal protection.”

West Virginia Senator Shelley Moore Capito, the top Republican on the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee, blasted the new regulation because it “would move us backwards by making more projects subject to federal permitting requirements and adding more bureaucratic red tape.” That may be the least of it.

This new definition, which goes well beyond simple surface water, also includes such topographical features as gullies, creeks, and ravines — essentially anywhere water may at some point flow. As such, this redefinition will give the EPA expansive authoritative access to a significant percentage of American land irrespective of whether there is any actual body of water on it. This is another massive step in the growth of the regulatory state, run by bureaucrats in Washington who are more beholden to wealthy environmental lobbyists than they are concerned with protecting the property rights of individual Americans.

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