The EPA just published their new rule redefining “waters of the United States” again and it’s a massive power grab. I’d guess most of you have heard the term WOTUS by now, but some of you might be asking yourself what exactly it means and how it could affect you.
It all goes back to the Clean Water Act of 1972. A landmark piece of legislation, the Clean Water Act was a huge step forward in protecting America’s navigable waterways like the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers. But, like with just about every other federal law, the problems came later—when the bureaucrats got ahold of it.
Instead of sticking to the original intent of the law, they continually sought to expand the law’s reach, redefining “waters of the United States” however they pleased to require more and more permits for doing anything from tilling the soil to building a home or a road.
Eventually, through a series of rules and court cases, they decided that any water, even a ditch or a puddle, that had a “significant nexus” to a navigable water was a “water of the United States” and subject to the full force of the law. Now, if you don’t know what in the world a “significant nexus” is, don’t worry, you aren’t alone.
By definition, it means there’s an important connection between the two bodies of water. In practice, it means whatever they want it to. Since there’s no clear definition of what exactly a “significant nexus” is, it’s up to each individual bureaucrat to decide in each particular case. Ultimately, it means that you need a lawyer, an engineer, and a whole lot of money to figure out if that puddle you want to build a garage on is a “water of the United States.”
Most people can’t afford that. You could build (or plow) without asking for permission, but you’d be risking fines of up to $25,000 for every day you’re found in violation or even criminal conviction and a lengthy sentence in federal prison. Those penalties seem awfully steep for covering up a puddle, but that’s because the law was written to dissuade factory owners from dumping toxic chemicals into our rivers, not for punishing farmers for tilling land or families for building homes.
The Trump Administration’s Navigable Waters Protection Rule sought to put this issue to bed once and for all, by establishing clear criteria for determining the definition of a “water of the United States.” Unfortunately, the Biden EPA immediately moved to drag us back to the “significant nexus” test, leaving it up to bureaucrats to decide where their power ends.
That’s where we are now. The new final WOTUS rule is set to take effect in 59 days—provided it survives the flurry of lawsuits that have been filed against it and a Supreme Court ruling in a related case. This won’t just have massive implications for farmers, but also countless small businesses, and families looking to buy a new home or build on to the one they have.
That’s why as the Chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, the committee that has jurisdiction over this rule, I’m committed to fighting this overreach every step of the way.