Opening Statements

Opening Statement: Conservation & Forestry Subcommittee Chairman Thompson-WOTUS

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Washington, DC, March 17, 2015 | comments

Remarks as prepared:

Good morning and welcome to today’s hearing to review the definition of the “waters of the United States” proposed rule and its impact on rural America.

The Clean Water Act created a historic partnership between the federal government and the states to protect our nation’s navigable waterways.  However, since the law’s inception, the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers have on many occasions ignored the original intent of Congress and have instead promoted the concept of statutory ambiguity as a justification for slowly and continually extending their jurisdictional reach.

As a result, the Supreme Court has ruled that the EPA has unlawfully expanded its authority, compelling the high court to recommend that the government’s authority must be more clearly defined. The Obama Administration has taken it upon itself to redefine their authority over jurisdictional waters, also known as “navigable waters”. When Congress rejected legislation that would expand the federal scope and jurisdiction over regulated waterways, the EPA attempted to circumvent Congress and achieve overreaching legislative goals through agency guidance. When Congressional and public outcry called for a formal rule-making process, the Obama Administration developed a proposal to expand their jurisdiction, ignoring input from the states and stakeholders.

Over the past year, the Obama Administration has contended that the proposed rule defining the “waters of the United States” will make no substantial changes to traditional jurisdictional waters and has continually assured the agriculture sector that, not only will current exemptions stay the same, but that the rule only serves to provide more clarity.

If clarity, certainty, and better establishing reasonable jurisdictional limits was the intent of the rule, this proposal completely misses the mark. We continually hear testimony that the proposal will allow the EPA the ability to regulate essentially any body of water, such as a farm pond or even a ditch – even if that farm pond or ditch is dry during much of the year.

Today we will hear a broad range of concerns from across rural America including: (1) the legal complications that agricultural producers and foresters are certain to face; (2) the costs to states and counties to comply with this unwarranted expansion of jurisdiction; (3) and obstacles to building rural infrastructure.

While the committee does not have jurisdiction over the Clean Water Act, this proposal drafted under the authority of that Act will have dire and significant consequences for rural America.  It is therefore this Committee’s responsibility to review the proposal and highlight the potential negative consequences if the rule is finalized in its current form.

Where the Committee does have jurisdiction, we will continue to engage.  One example is the negative consequence this proposal will have regarding registered pesticide applications.  As we have heard, an uninformed court decision in 2009 subjected registered pesticide applications in or near waters of the United States to a duplicative permitting requirement under section 402 of the Clean Water Act. 

As the Administration presses forward with their unprecedented expansion of jurisdictional waters, the implications for farmers, water resource boards and mosquito control districts will be severe.  This Committee and this House have made numerous attempts to address this problem and we will once again markup that legislation 2 days from now.

Rural America’s voice cannot be ignored.  As such, the Committee would urge EPA Administrator McCarthy, Assistant Secretary Darcy of the Army Corps of Engineers, and USDA Secretary Vilsack to pay close attention to today’s hearing so they can take note of, first hand, the concern their actions have created in the countryside. The Committee may call on them in the future to address specific issues and concerns raised in today’s hearing.

Let me be clear – there is a need for more certainty and clarity of the reach of the Clean Water Act. However, this rule will provide neither. After today’s hearing, I hope the Administration will take action by pulling the proposed rule, and start over by working with the states and taking into consideration the concerns they have heard from stakeholders.  Or, if the EPA and Corps proceed and push this rule through, I call on the Administration to re-propose the rule for a new round of public comment. This will allow the states and stakeholders a chance to see the significant changes EPA and the Corps claim they have made since the first comment period closed.

I thank the witnesses for taking time to be here today, which will be spread over two panels of testimony.  I look forward to hearing from everyone here today - and yield to the Ranking Member Rep. Lujan Grisham.

 

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