Opening Statement of Senator Jeff Sessions
June 26, 1997
Clean Air, Wetlands, Private Property and Nuclear Safety Subcommittee

I would like to begin by thanking Chairman Inhofe for calling this hearing today to discuss the recent series of administrative and judicial changes that have occurred with regard to the regulation of wetlands under section 404 of the Clean Water Act. These changes have generated a great deal of comment within both the regulated community and the environmental community, and I think it is appropriate that this committee takes this opportunity to address these issues at this time. By focusing today on both the recent judicial invalidation of the "Tulloch Rule", and also on the modified re-issuance of Nationwide Permit 26 by the Army Corps of Engineers, this committee will be effectively concentrating it's time and energies on the two issues that have generated the lion's share of criticism by individuals on either side of the current regulatory debate.

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank the witnesses who will be testifying before the committee today. I am certain that the knowledge that they bring forward and the opinions that they possess will add greatly to our discussion of these issues.

Mr. Chairman, in a broader sense, today's hearings will vividly illustrate the tension that exists as we try to maintain the balance between two competing priorities. The first of these priorities concerns the preservation of private property rights as a fundamental right of American citizenship. As we all know, the fifth amendment to the Constitution protects against the taking of private property for public use without just compensation. With some estimates of wetland acreage placing as much as 75% of our countries remaining wetlands on privately owned property, any change which serves to expand the government's regulatory authority over such land or any change which seeks to limit a property owners ability to develop their land must be carefully evaluated to ensure that basic property rights have not been improperly infringed upon.

The priority that we place on maintaining property rights often seems to be at odds with the priority that we have placed on environment stewardship. Certainly, we all recognize that there are significant environmental benefits to be derived from the existence of wetland regions. In fact, recognition of these benefits led Congress to enact specific legislative protection for these areas. The Clean Water Act, which gave rise to the Nationwide Permitting Process that will be discussed today, serves as a prime example of the enactment of specifically tailored legislation to further a particular environmental goal. As the recent judicial invalidation of the "Tulloch Rule" illustrates, however, the careful balance between these dual priorities can become blurred when Federal agencies enact regulatory changes that seemingly expand their regulatory authority beyond its carefully enacted limits.

That is why hearings such as the one we are attending today are important. We have an oversight responsibility to ensure that actions taken by Federal agencies do not result in improper obstructions of one's ability to enjoy the benefits of private property ownership. I commend the Chairman for his recognition of this oversight responsibility and I look forward to today's discussion of these important issues.