Jeff Eisenberg, right, executive director of the
Public Lands Council, fills in rancher Dave Nelson,
left, and ag broadcaster Evan Slack on the
happenings on Capitol Hill during the Idaho Cattle
Convention in Jackpot, Nev. on June 23.
Clean Water Act raises hackles
Wide range of interests oppose Senate Bill 787
Carol Ryan Dumas
July 2, 2009
Farm groups and other organizations are decrying a Senate
bill that would give more power to federal agencies, such
as the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army
Corps of Engineers, under the Clean Water Act.
The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on June
18 passed SB787, the Clean Water Restoration Act, on a
12-7 party-line vote.
The move brings the country one step closer to the largest
federal land grab in our history, the National Cattlemen's
Beef Association said.
Under current law, the federal government has jurisdiction
over "navigable waters of the United States." However, by
removing the word "navigable" from the definition, the
CWRA would expand federal regulatory control to
unprecedented levels, essentially putting stock tanks,
drainage ditches, any puddle or water feature found on
family farms and ranches - potentially even ground water -
under the regulatory strong arm of the federal government,
"The Clean Water (Restoration) Act is about as bad a deal
that's come down the wire in a long time," Jeff Eisenberg,
executive director of the Public Lands Council, said
Tuesday, June 23, at the Idaho Cattle Association's
mid-year convention in Jackpot, Nev. "It's possibly worse
than the Endangered Species Act."
Eisenberg said the Public Lands Council is concerned about
what it would mean to have the act cover all waters of the
"The Public Lands Council believes that's a big problem
for property owners everywhere because it'll potentially
make all waters on the person's land subject to regulation
by the EPA," he said.
NCBA and the Public Lands Council oppose the legislation
because it infringes on private property rights limits
state partnerships and the flexibility that have made the
current Clean Water Act arguably the most successful
environmental law on the books.
The bill would expand federal jurisdiction over private
farms and ranches that would be disastrous to U.S.
agriculture, the groups contend.
David Ridenour, vice president of the National Center for
Public Policy, agreed. "It's a bad, bad bill," he said.
Sponsors of the bill argue the act would simply restore
authority to federal agencies under the Clean Water Act.
The even bigger issue, in Ridenour's opinion, is that the
act extends regulations to "activities affected by these
waters." but it doesn't define what those activities might
"I don't think there is anyone who can definitively say
what those activities are," Ridenour said. "This would be
a field day for overzealous bureaucrats. It's a blank
The bill was amended to exempt prior-converted croplands
from federal jurisdiction. However, cattle are often
grazed on land that is not prior-converted croplands, so
this amendment does nothing to mitigate the potential
damage to livestock production from this legislation,
according to NCBA..
NCBA's and PLC's joint letter to committee members states:
"This bill is unnecessary and unjustifiable and sets a
dangerous precedent towards the continuing erosion of our
fundamental constitutional rights as American citizens. No
compromise or exemption will cover all of the farms and
ranches in the U.S. To fully protect agriculture, the term
'navigable' must remain in the Clean Water Act."
Whether the bill will pass is unknown.
Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, a member of the Senate
Environmental and Public Works Committee, voted against
the bill and is threatening a filibuster.
"This bill threatens the current Clean Water Act statute
and would allow for government regulation of virtually all
interstate and intrastate waters and their tributaries,
including rivers, intermittent streams, mudflats, sand
flats, prairie potholes, wet meadows, playa lakes, natural
ponds and others," Crapo said in a press release. "It also
would grant federal regulators new and expanded authority
over activities affecting these waters, which has serious
implications for commerce. I intend to use every tool and
privilege afforded to slow or stop this ill-conceived
attack on Idaho's sovereignty over managing its water."
Ridenour said the bill would need 60 votes to get out of
the Senate, and it faces opposition from "literally
hundreds" of organizations.
"Many senators from farm states are against this bill," he
said, but cautioned that some legislators are using
strong-handed tactics to get their favored legislation
"Crapo is opposed to it," Eisenberg said. "I'm cautiously
optimistic the Clean Water Act is not going to get off the
floor. We're hopeful we're going to be able to block its
enactment this year."
Staff writer Carol Ryan Dumas is based in Twin Falls.