New waters rule would greatly expand EPA role

Alaskans and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy generally don’t agree on much. But recently, when talking to a reporter about water, she hit on a consensus, albeit unintentionally: “Water is personal,” she said.

Indeed it is. And Alaskans know just how personal. We are a state that understands and loves its water. We boast 43,000 miles of coastline, and millions of lakes. More than 43 percent of our state’s surface area is composed of wetlands — which accounts for 65 percent of the all the wetlands in the nation. It’s in our back yards, and we take care of it. In fact, we have some of the cleanest waterways in the world.

The federal government, however, doesn’t trust our state and its people to take care of our own resources, even though our environmental standards are among the strictest in the world and our waters among the cleanest. They want to assert authority over even more water and activities on adjacent lands by bypassing Congress and imposing rules that would have a devastating effect on Alaska’s economy.

Already, a huge percentage of Alaskans’ waters are under federal control. In fact, a whopping 63 percent of the nation’s jurisdictional waters are in Alaska, meaning those who are doing business on or near those waters have to wrangle with the federal government to get permits. And as many who are doing business in Alaska can attest, having to deal with the federal government is time consuming and expensive, which can serve as a disincentive to doing business in the state.

But if the EPA has its way and enacts yet another rule, this one called the Waters of the United States Rule, it appears the EPA’s jurisdiction will increase significantly. As of now, the Clean Water Act gives the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers authority over navigable waters and some wetlands. However, the rule the EPA is proposing, informed by dubious studies, says virtually all water — including potholes, ditches, seasonal streams, puddles, and ponds — could be connected to major waterways and is therefore under EPA jurisdiction.

If the rule is promulgated as proposed, it could mean many Alaskans could be subject to having to get a permit from the EPA to dig ditches in their backyards. It would meant a farmer might have to get a permit to plow new land. It would mean harbors, roads, weed and pesticide control and certainly mining in Fairbanks, could now fall under a more rigorous federal permitting process.

This is one of many issues involving federal overreach I’m fighting against in the Senate, and it’s why I’m holding field hearings on this proposed rule in Alaska this month. Today in Fairbanks, we will examine the views of and impacts on state and local governments and stakeholders of the proposed rule. It’s the start of a multi-faceted approach to kill the rule, which is obviously a constitutional over-reach, not the least of which because Congress refused to pass legislation in 2009 that would have led to the same result.

I’m not alone in fighting the EPA’s power-grab. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have opposed the rule. Late last month, the Senate got bipartisan support on a non-binding amendment I co-sponsored with Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyoming, that will rein in the scope of this rulemaking.

Nationwide, 22 states have called for it to be withdrawn, while 11 have asked for it to be revised. More than 300 trade groups and associations from across the country — including the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Association of Home Builders and the National Mining Association — are also fighting it.

Here at home, the Kodiak Island Borough, Sealaska Corp., the Council of Alaska Producers, Aleutians East Borough, the North Slope Borough, Arctic Slope Regional Corporation and the Inupiat Community of the Arctic Slope, to name a few, are all against the rule as proposed.

Most of these groups and states are saying the same thing: localities and states, not the federal government, are best equipped to deal with water in their own areas.

Commenting on the rule, Sara Taylor, the executive director of Alaska’s Citizens’ Advisory Commission on Federal Areas, wrote, “the people who care and know the most about the water should be in charge of its care. Those people are the ones who drink it, swim in it and fish in it.” However, it’s exactly those people who know best who will be “disenfranchised, most burdened, and most at risk” from the rule, the director wrote.

ASRC and the Inupiat Community wrote the rule would “straitjacket the development of natural resources on Alaska’s North Slope.” Kodiak Borough wrote the rule would be “extremely burdensome.” The Alaska Miners Association said the rule would have a negative effect on the mining industry and “virtually any other economic development project” in Alaska.

As Alaska faces severe budget shortfalls, this is no time for the federal government to lock up even more lands and make economic development even more difficult in the state.

Please join me at the field hearing at the Fairbanks North Star Borough to learn more about the proposed rule and what the consequences will be for the state if it’s enacted. In doing so, you’ll be sending a message to Gina McCarthy that yes, water is personal. That’s why we, not the federal government, need to continue to have control over it. 

By:  Sen. Dan Sullivan
Source: Fairbanks Daily News-Miner