Vitter Summary Statement for New Orleans Field Briefing on EPA's Proposed Waters Rule
EPW Republican Field Briefing “Impacts to Louisiana Families, Farmers, and Infrastructure Projects from EPA’s Proposed Waters Rule”
August 15, 2014
Thank you everyone for being here this morning to discuss the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Army Corps of Engineers' (Corps) proposed rule to unilaterally expand federal jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act.
There is no doubt that this proposed rule will significantly increase the amount of private property subject to federal control as "waters of the United States," including timberland, farmland, and other waterbodies. In essence, this means that bureaucrats in Washington D.C.-who already have too much power-are attempting to give themselves even more authority over the livelihoods and businesses of individuals and families throughout Louisiana.
Our state is filled with intermittent tributaries and lands that could fall subject to federal jurisdiction.
The proposed rule's sweeping language is a direct threat to the private property rights which serve as a backbone to our nation's economy. I am very concerned that the consequences of the Obama Administration's proposed rule will be especially severe for businesses, farmers, municipalities, and other landowners here in Louisiana.
Our state is on the verge of significant economic expansion, thanks to the leadership of many people in this room, and the businesses and individuals they represent. Yet this economic progress could come to a screeching halt if EPA and the Corps are permitted to follow the path outlined in this proposed rule.
Instead of Louisianans deciding how best to use their property, the proposed rule will allow the federal government to dictate many land use decisions. The proposed rule would also give radical environmental activists, with whom our federal government often colludes, the green light to sue Louisiana landowners. This would mean increased regulatory costs, less economic development, fewer jobs for hardworking Louisianans, and perpetual litigation and exorbitant penalties that can be devastating to small businesses and families.
I am pleased to have Congressman Bill Cassidy joining me this morning. We are also joined by three distinguished witnesses who will offer helpful testimony on the troubling yet important issues surrounding the EPA and the Corps' proposed rule. Our witnesses today are Dr. Mike Strain, Commissioner of the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry; Buck Vandersteen, the Executive Director of the Louisiana Forestry Association; and Steven Serio, a partner at the law firm of Fishman Haygood and the Louisiana Government Relations Chair for the International Council of Shopping Centers. My thanks to each of the witnesses for appearing at this morning's briefing.
Before we hear from our witnesses, I would like to highlight some of the concerns I have with EPA and the Corps' proposed "waters of the United States" rule. Three issues in particular convince me that this proposal should be withdrawn immediately.
First, the text of the proposed rule demonstrates that EPA and the Corps are attempting a vast takeover of state and private property. Certain categorical terms, such as tributaries, adjacent waters, neighboring waters, and floodplains, are defined so broadly that virtually any waterbody could fall under the regulatory authority of the agency. Even if a waterbody does not fall under these broad definitions, non-jurisdictional waterbodies can still be considered jurisdictional when, in combination with other similarly situated waters, there is a significant nexus to a traditional navigable water body. This "catch all" provision, combined with the agencies' broad definitional terms, provides no real limit to federal authority under the Clean Water Act.
Second, the agencies that will be in charge of enforcing the proposed rule have shown that they do not understand the language that they drafted or the significant costs associated with expanding Clean Water Act jurisdiction. Earlier this month, our Committee completed a "Fact Check" on several EPA claims regarding the proposed rule. When examining the text of the proposed rule, it's easy to see how EPA's claims are rendered completely false. For example, EPA has indicated that the proposed rule does not regulate new types of ditches. In fact, however, the proposal explicitly includes ditches unless they fall within one of two narrow exceptions for federal jurisdiction. Many ditches throughout the country will be unable to meet the rule's limited exemption provision and thus will become subject to federal Clean Water Act jurisdiction under the rule, contrary to EPA's claims.
Likewise, the Army Corps has attempted to assure me that "when privately-owned aquatic areas are subject to Clean Water Act jurisdiction . . . [that] results in little or no interference with the landowner's use of land." This comes from the same agency whose designation of land in Assumption Parish has prevented the development of a privately-owned landfill. Not to mention the growing problems with the Corps' Modified Charleston Method and other mitigation policies, which more and more appear to be a means for federal extortion of private landowners. These misguided claims suggest to me that EPA and the Corps either don't understand the Clean Water Act and the language they drafted, or they are intentionally trying to mislead the American public regarding the effect of the proposed rule.
Third, I am extremely concerned that the proposed rule will lead to radical environmental groups suing homeowners and small businesses here in Louisiana for simply attempting to improve their private property.
How many homeowners, small businesses and farmers would be exempt from federal regulation under EPA's proposed rule? It is very difficult to say with any certainty.
There are already reports of environmental groups using language contained in the proposed rule to sue and stop homebuilders and other businesses from providing housing and jobs to the American people. If finalized, few sectors of Louisiana's economy will be immune from environmental activists and their desire to exploit the rule through abusive citizen suit litigation.
It is also disconcerting that, in conjunction with the proposed "waters of the United States" rule, EPA and the Corps issued an interpretive Clean Water Act rule that will make it more difficult for farmers to engage in recognized conservation practices.
With all of these concerns in mind, Congress can and should stop this federal overreach dead in its tracks. That's why I'm proud to be a lead co-sponsor of Senator Barrasso's Protecting Water and Property Rights Act of 2014 (S. 2496), which would prevent the Obama Administration from finalizing this rule or any similar proposal. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy recently made the public statement that "I have never proposed anything that I thought would be so well-received as this that has fallen totally flat on its face." As Ranking Member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, I am also committed to protecting Louisianans and private property owners throughout the country, and will do everything in my power to stop this federal overreach.
Once again I thank everyone for attending this important briefing, and I look forward to hearing from our witnesses this morning.