Congress Says “No” to EPA in your Backyard

Despite threats of a veto from the White House, Congress voted 239-184 on Wednesday to ensure that the EPA cannot overrule state decisions on water quality. Sixteen Democrats joined the Republican caucus in supporting the bill.

The bill was drafted in response to an increasingly aggressive approach by the EPA to regulating non-interstate waters. This approach has been opposed by both agricultural and business leaders, as the EPA has recently made unprecedented moves to control agricultural nutrient runoff in Florida and has revoked state-issued permits for mining in West Virginia.

As recently as May, “Draft Guidelines” had been issued to the EPA to radically expand the waters that fall under EPA jurisdiction, prompting political, business, and popular opposition.

A letter signed by 40 House members explained the basis for their opposition:
“When an agency acts to change the rights of an individual, we believe that the agency must go through the formal rulemaking process. We respectfully request you abandon any further action on this guidance document.”

The Property Rights Alliance has long opposed these expansions of EPA power, arguing to the House Transportation and Infrastructure committee in 2010 that the changes “Will not ensure the cleanliness of these waters, but merely serve as another bureaucratic barrier for citizens who wish to use land for development.”

Organizations such as the Heritage Foundation have also noted that these guidelines presented significant problems for property-owners as well as businesses. The simple act of draining or modifying a small pond on your property could, under the proposed changes, provoke EPA intervention. Indeed, Heritage notes that the proposed expansion could: “turn the Clean Water Act into what some analysts believe to be the most dangerous federal intrusion on private property rights in existence.” Indeed, documents supporting the expansion specifically mention the regulation of “mudflats, sandflats, wetlands, sloughs, prairie potholes, wet meadows, playa lakes, natural ponds…” – essentially covering virtually any form of consistent water that a property-owner might have on their land.

The bill passed by the house on Wednesday could stop this expansion of EPA power dead in its tracks. The passage of this bill is a positive step for property rights against government intrusion. The Senate and the White House should take note.

Click here to read PRA comments to the EPA on the draft guidance.