Will EPA Regulate All Water?

Defending Agriculture

Courts may be last stand if Congress won't step in

Published on: February 20, 2014

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is pushing to control the waters of the United States. And at least one political leader is pushing back.

"To let EPA begin to regulate all waters of the United States would have devastating impacts on rural towns, farmers and local governments," says Congressman Mike Simpson, R-Idaho.  His proposed legislation, called the Defense of Environment and Property Act of 2013, is an effort to stop EPA from regulating virtually all water bodies in the U.S.

He will likely fail.

On January 27, I wrote about a term you will see frequently, called "Connectivity". As I predicted, this 331-page report serves as justification for EPA to regulate virtually all waters in the U.S. "consistent with science" it claims.

EPA claims it is merely clarifying three U.S. Supreme Court wetland cases.  In one lower court case EPA claimed jurisdiction over standing water in an Illinois corn field by claiming migratory birds using the water gave it jurisdiction over the land.( I tried this case, Hoffman Homes, Inc v. EPA  and EPA lost.)

 EPA did not give up. It pursued its migratory bird jurisdiction argument all the way to the Supreme Court in SWANCC v U.S, Corps of Engineers.  EPA and the Corps were told they did not have jurisdiction if migratory birds flew over or used water in isolated puddles on fields.  In June 2006, the U.S. Supreme Court again addressed the scope of Clean Water Act (CWA) protection for wetlands adjacent to tributaries of traditional navigable waters in Rapanos v United States.

There were separate opinions issued by 5 justices in the majority. It is interesting to note, given EPA's power grab, that it virtually ignores the plurality opinion (four Justices) by Justice Scalia. He wrote that "Waters of the United States extend beyond traditional navigable waters to include relatively permanent, standing or flowing bodies of water."  He  said the phrase "relatively permanent includes seasonal rivers, but not streams whose flow is coming and going at intervals…broken, fitful…or existing only, for no longer than, a day."

Justice Scalia and three of his colleagues concluded that only wetlands with a continuous surface connection to other waters of the United States are protected by the CWA.