Hardin Hall, Room 107 University of Nebraska, East Campus

Unofficial Statement

 

 

 

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           1                United States Senate

 

 

 

           2        Environment and Public Works Committee

 

 

 

           3                   Field Hearing

 

 

 

           4        Impacts of the Proposed Waters of the

 

 

 

           5        United States Rule on State and Local

 

 

 

           6             Governments and Stakeholders

 

 

 

           7

 

 

 

           8             Hearing held at the hour of

 

 

 

           9  10:00 a.m. on March 14, 2015, at Hardin Hall

 

 

 

          10  Auditorium, University of Nebraska-Lincoln,

 

 

 

          11  3310 Holdrege Street, Lincoln, Nebraska.

 

 

 

          12

 

 

 

          13                APPEARANCES:

 

 

 

          14  Senator Deb Fischer        Chair

 

 

 

          15  Mr. Justin Lavene          Panel 1:

 

 

 

          16  Ms. Mary Ann Borgeson      Panel 2:

 

              Ms. Barbara Cooksley

 

          17  Mr. Donald Wisnieski

 

              Mr. John Crabtree

 

          18  Mr. Wesley F. Sheets

 

              Mr. Don Blankenau

 

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          25


 

 

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           1             SENATOR FISCHER:  Good morning.  Good

 

 

 

           2  morning everyone.  This hearing will come to

 

 

 

           3  order.

 

 

 

           4        I am pleased to bring the United States

 

 

 

           5  Senate to Nebraska and convene this hearing of the

 

 

 

           6  Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

 

 

 

           7  Today's hearing is titled Impacts of the Proposed

 

 

 

           8  Waters of the United States Rule on State and

 

 

 

           9  Local Governments and Stakeholders.

 

 

 

          10        I believe Nebraska is the perfect place to

 

 

 

          11  hold this hearing.  Our surface water and

 

 

 

          12  groundwater are so important to this state.

 

 

 

          13  Nebraskans take great pride in their stewardship

 

 

 

          14  of these precious resources and they are rightly

 

 

 

          15  concerned with the federal government's attempt to

 

 

 

          16  seize control.

 

 

 

          17        I am pleased to hold this hearing at our

 

 

 

          18  very own land-grant university.

 

 

 

          19        So, to begin, I would like to say a special

 

 

 

          20  thank you to the University of Nebraska for

 

 

 

          21  providing today's accommodations.

 

 

 

          22        I would also like to thank our staff that is

 

 

 

          23  present today.  I have two of my Washington staff

 

 

 

          24  members present, Michelle Weber, who is from

 

 

 

          25  Blue Hill, Nebraska, and Jessica Clowser, who is


 

 

                                                                3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

           1  from Seward, Nebraska.  They are tucked back here

 

 

 

           2  around the corner.  But I am happy that they were

 

 

 

           3  able to come home and serve here at the Committee

 

 

 

           4  to help me.

 

 

 

           5        We also have two Committee staff people that

 

 

 

           6  our Chairman, Senator Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma has

 

 

 

           7  provided, Laura Acheson and Lauren Sturgeon.  So

 

 

 

           8  thank you for being here.

 

 

 

           9        And Senator Ben Cardin from Maryland on the

 

 

 

          10  Majority side has sent a staff person as well,

 

 

 

          11  Mae Stevens.

 

 

 

          12        So welcome to all of you.

 

 

 

          13        I'm excited to welcome a diverse group of

 

 

 

          14  Nebraska's stakeholders this morning to share

 

 

 

          15  their perspectives on the proposed rule to revise

 

 

 

          16  the definition of waters of the United States for

 

 

 

          17  all Clean Water Act programs.  This hearing will

 

 

 

          18  allow us to explore the issue in depth and

 

 

 

          19  determine the impact this rule would have on our

 

 

 

          20  state and on Nebraskan families.  Last year, the

 

 

 

          21  EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers proposed a

 

 

 

          22  rule that redefines federal regulatory reach to

 

 

 

          23  include everything from farm ponds and drainage

 

 

 

          24  ditches to low-lying areas that are dry for most

 

 

 

          25  of the year.  This proposal is a massive expansion


 

 

                                                                4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

           1  of federal jurisdiction beyond congressional

 

 

 

           2  intent.

 

 

 

           3        Congress limited the federal government's

 

 

 

           4  regulatory authority in the Clean Water Act to

 

 

 

           5  navigable waters.  And the Supreme Court confirmed

 

 

 

           6  these limitations in the SWANCC and Rapanos cases.

 

 

 

           7  The Court expressly rejected attempts to expand

 

 

 

           8  federal control over water, and made it clear that

 

 

 

           9  all water is not subject to federal jurisdiction

 

 

 

          10  under the Clean Water Act.  Instead of following

 

 

 

          11  the law, this administration has decided to twist

 

 

 

          12  the rule's definition to include almost every drop

 

 

 

          13  of precipitation that could eventually make it to

 

 

 

          14  navigable water.  This was not the intent of the

 

 

 

          15  Clean Water Act.

 

 

 

          16        Nebraskans take seriously their role in

 

 

 

          17  protecting and conserving our natural resources.

 

 

 

          18  Responsible resource management, including careful

 

 

 

          19  stewardship of our water, is the cornerstone of

 

 

 

          20  our state's economy.  This is a vital interest to

 

 

 

          21  Nebraska's families, Nebraska businesses, our

 

 

 

          22  agricultural industry, and our local communities.

 

 

 

          23        Nebraskans understand that the people

 

 

 

          24  closest to the resource are also those who are

 

 

 

          25  best able to manage it.


 

 

                                                                5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

           1        We are blessed to live in a state with 23

 

 

 

           2  local Natural Resource Districts served by board

 

 

 

           3  members from those local communities, and to have

 

 

 

           4  landowners and communities that truly care about

 

 

 

           5  clean water and a healthy and productive

 

 

 

           6  environment.  That's why it came as no surprise

 

 

 

           7  that Nebraskans were so offended when the federal

 

 

 

           8  government made its proposal without consulting

 

 

 

           9  state and local authorities, without considering

 

 

 

          10  their rights, and without realistically examining

 

 

 

          11  the potential impacts.  I am grateful that

 

 

 

          12  Nebraskans were quick to recognize the

 

 

 

          13  far-reaching consequences of this rule, and to

 

 

 

          14  organize a group effort to raise the alarm.  The

 

 

 

          15  common sense Nebraska coalition should be

 

 

 

          16  commended for its efforts to highlight the

 

 

 

          17  sweeping implications of this rule on everyone,

 

 

 

          18  from county officials trying to build a road, to a

 

 

 

          19  farmer managing rainwater runoff.

 

 

 

          20        Clean Water Act permits are complex, time

 

 

 

          21  consuming and very expensive.  They leave

 

 

 

          22  landowners and our local governments vulnerable to

 

 

 

          23  citizen suits.  The proposal would make it

 

 

 

          24  difficult to build anything, whether it's a home

 

 

 

          25  for a family, a factory to provide needed jobs, or


 

 

                                                                6

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

           1  highways and bridges necessary to transport our

 

 

 

           2  people and goods.

 

 

 

           3        I am entering into the hearing record a

 

 

 

           4  letter and analysis from Mike Linder, who served

 

 

 

           5  as the Director of the Nebraska Department of

 

 

 

           6  Environmental Quality from 1999 to 2013.  He

 

 

 

           7  states that the rule is an erosion of cooperative

 

 

 

           8  federalism that will harm the success of

 

 

 

           9  Nebraska's conservation practices and programs.

 

 

 

          10        Today's hearing will begin with a witness

 

 

 

          11  who can speak to the importance of the state's

 

 

 

          12  water protection programs and cooperative

 

 

 

          13  federalism.

 

 

 

          14        Assistant Attorney General Justin Lavene is

 

 

 

          15  the chief of the Agriculture Environment and

 

 

 

          16  Natural Resources Bureau at the Nebraska

 

 

 

          17  Department of Justice.  A native of Bertrand,

 

 

 

          18  Nebraska, Mr. Lavene supervises the litigation and

 

 

 

          19  legal support for the Nebraska agencies and

 

 

 

          20  boards, including the Department of Environmental

 

 

 

          21  Quality, Department of Natural Resources,

 

 

 

          22  Department of Agriculture, Game and Parks Division

 

 

 

          23  and the Environmental Trust.

 

 

 

          24        Mr. Lavene, I thank you for being here.

 

 

 

          25  And when you are ready, please begin your


 

 

                                                                7

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

           1  testimony.

 

 

 

           2             MR. LAVENE:  Thank you, Senator Fischer.

 

 

 

           3  Chairman Inhofe, and Ranking Member Boxer, Members

 

 

 

           4  of the Senate's Committee on Environment and

 

 

 

           5  Public Works, my sincere thanks for the

 

 

 

           6  opportunity to present the Nebraska Attorney

 

 

 

           7  General's Office concern regarding the joint

 

 

 

           8  proposal by the United States Army Corps of

 

 

 

           9  Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency

 

 

 

          10  to define the Clean Water Act's use of the phrase

 

 

 

          11  "waters of the United States" in a manner that

 

 

 

          12  would appear to dramatically expand the scope of

 

 

 

          13  federal authority under the Act.  The Nebraska

 

 

 

          14  Attorney General's Office, alongside a number of

 

 

 

          15  our sister states, previously offered comments to

 

 

 

          16  the Agencies on the proposed -- on the proposed

 

 

 

          17  expansive definition.  The Attorneys General

 

 

 

          18  apprised the Agencies of those aspects of the

 

 

 

          19  proposed definition which are inconsistent with

 

 

 

          20  the limitations of the Clean Water Act, as

 

 

 

          21  interpreted by the United States Supreme Court, as

 

 

 

          22  well as the outer boundaries of Congress's

 

 

 

          23  constitutional authority over interstate commerce,

 

 

 

          24  and the principal of cooperative federalism as

 

 

 

          25  embodied in the Act.  However, it is not certain


 

 

                                                                8

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

           1  that those concerns will truly be considered,

 

 

 

           2  which is why we appreciate the opportunity to

 

 

 

           3  present additional testimony here today.

 

 

 

           4        Congress intended the Clean Water Act to

 

 

 

           5  recognize, preserve, and protect the primary

 

 

 

           6  responsibilities and rights of the states to plan

 

 

 

           7  and -- the development and use of land and water

 

 

 

           8  resources.  Nonetheless, EPA, along with the

 

 

 

           9  Corps, persistently violates this principal of

 

 

 

          10  cooperative federalism in practice and now seeks

 

 

 

          11  to codify a significant intrusion on the states'

 

 

 

          12  statutory obligations with respect to intrastate

 

 

 

          13  water and land management.  Despite Nebraska's

 

 

 

          14  consistent and dutiful protection of its land and

 

 

 

          15  water resources, in a manner consistent with local

 

 

 

          16  conditions and needs, the Agencies seek to further

 

 

 

          17  their disregard for State primacy in the area of

 

 

 

          18  land and water preservation, and instead make the

 

 

 

          19  Federal Government the primary regulator of much

 

 

 

          20  of the intrastate waters and sometimes-wet land in

 

 

 

          21  the United States.  The Agencies may not arrogate

 

 

 

          22  to themselves the traditional state prerogatives

 

 

 

          23  over intrastate waters and land use; after all,

 

 

 

          24  there is no federal interest in regulating water

 

 

 

          25  activities on dry land and any activities not


 

 

                                                                9

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

           1  connected to interstate commerce.  Instead,

 

 

 

           2  States, by virtue of being closer to communities,

 

 

 

           3  are in the best position to provide effective,

 

 

 

           4  fair, and responsive oversight of water use, and

 

 

 

           5  have consistently done so.

 

 

 

           6        The Agencies propose a single definition of

 

 

 

           7  the phrase "water of the United States" for all of

 

 

 

           8  the Act's programs.  Currently, there is a

 

 

 

           9  difference in use and application of the term

 

 

 

          10  "water of the United States" for various sections

 

 

 

          11  of the Act.  In Nebraska, since the 1970s, EPA has

 

 

 

          12  delegated authority to the Department of

 

 

 

          13  Environmental Quality to implement all programs

 

 

 

          14  except Section 404 dredge and fill, and

 

 

 

          15  Section 311 oil spill programs.  Thus, the Section

 

 

 

          16  402, National Pollutant Discharge Elimination

 

 

 

          17  System, or NPDES program, the Section 303, water

 

 

 

          18  quality standards and total maximum daily load

 

 

 

          19  program, and the Section 401, state water quality

 

 

 

          20  certification process, are all administered at the

 

 

 

          21  state level.  This same arrangement exists in all

 

 

 

          22  but a handful of states.

 

 

 

          23        The continued state administration of the

 

 

 

          24  NPDES program requires the Department of

 

 

 

          25  Environmental Quality to have an equally stringent


 

 

                                                               10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

           1  regulatory structure, including its own definition

 

 

 

           2  of jurisdictional waters.  Accordingly, the

 

 

 

           3  Department has administered the various Clean

 

 

 

           4  Water Act programs using its own "waters of the

 

 

 

           5  state" definition for nearly 40 years with EPA

 

 

 

           6  approval.  However, the regulatory approach used

 

 

 

           7  by the Agencies to develop a single definition of

 

 

 

           8  "waters of the United States," which will affect

 

 

 

           9  all the Clean Water Act programs, is modeled after

 

 

 

          10  the existing guidance provided by the Agencies and

 

 

 

          11  the United States Supreme Court which was limited

 

 

 

          12  on its face to the jurisdictional determinations

 

 

 

          13  for federally-administered dredge and fill

 

 

 

          14  programs found in the Clean Water Act of 404.

 

 

 

          15        When applied in the context of other Clean

 

 

 

          16  Water Act programs, the proposal creates

 

 

 

          17  significant cost and confusion, it increases

 

 

 

          18  unnecessary bureaucracy, and infringes on state

 

 

 

          19  primacy, and exposes agricultural producers to new

 

 

 

          20  liability.  During the 40 years of state

 

 

 

          21  implementation of the "waters of the state"

 

 

 

          22  requirement, the Department has applied the

 

 

 

          23  definition to Section 402 permitting decisions

 

 

 

          24  thousands of times.  In Nebraska, livestock

 

 

 

          25  producers in particular are subject to the


 

 

                                                               11

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

           1  requirements of either an individual or the

 

 

 

           2  general NPDES discharge permit.  In accordance

 

 

 

           3  with the terms of their permits, which are often

 

 

 

           4  crafted in reliance on the definition of the

 

 

 

           5  "waters of the state," these producers often

 

 

 

           6  construct waste control facilities and mitigating

 

 

 

           7  land features, such as berms or waterways, to help

 

 

 

           8  divert runoff from waters of the state.  If the

 

 

 

           9  proposed definition of "waters of the

 

 

 

          10  United States" is suddenly applied to the

 

 

 

          11  state-administered Section 402 program, the

 

 

 

          12  effectiveness of all the Department's permitting

 

 

 

          13  efforts is brought into question.  The land

 

 

 

          14  features constructed by producers in a good-faith

 

 

 

          15  effort to comply with the permitting requirements

 

 

 

          16  may constitute a tributary or adjacent water.

 

 

 

          17  Moreover, long-exempted operations may unknowingly

 

 

 

          18  find themselves subject to Clean Water Act

 

 

 

          19  jurisdiction.

 

 

 

          20        Similar increased administrative burdens may

 

 

 

          21  result with regard to the states' administration

 

 

 

          22  of Section 401, state water quality

 

 

 

          23  certifications, and Section 303, water quality

 

 

 

          24  standards.  As the scope of federal jurisdictional

 

 

 

          25  waters grows larger with the promulgation of the


 

 

                                                               12

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

           1  proposed definition, the number of federal actions

 

 

 

           2  requiring Section 401 certification of the state

 

 

 

           3  and the number of waters requiring the

 

 

 

           4  establishment of Section 303 standards and TMDLs

 

 

 

           5  will likely also increase.  The Department of

 

 

 

           6  Environmental Quality will be responsible for

 

 

 

           7  shouldering this burden leading to increased

 

 

 

           8  budget and resource demands.

 

 

 

           9        The Agencies suggest that the rule does no

 

 

 

          10  more than clarify what the Supreme Court has

 

 

 

          11  already declared with respect to the scope of

 

 

 

          12  federal authority under the Clean Water Act.  By

 

 

 

          13  now, the Committee members are likely familiar

 

 

 

          14  with the Supreme Court's holdings in Solid Waste

 

 

 

          15  Agency of Northern Cook County versus the Army

 

 

 

          16  Corps of Engineers, or SWANCC case, and Rapanos

 

 

 

          17  versus the United States.  Respectively, the

 

 

 

          18  holdings in these cases confirmed the limits of

 

 

 

          19  the federal government's, and the primacy of the

 

 

 

          20  states, over intrastate waters and required, at

 

 

 

          21  the least, a demonstrated significant nexus

 

 

 

          22  between nontraditional and traditionally

 

 

 

          23  jurisdictional waters before the agency may assert

 

 

 

          24  its authority.

 

 

 

          25        However, the proposed categorical inclusion


 

 

                                                               13

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

           1  of broadly-defined tributaries and adjacent waters

 

 

 

           2  looks to sweep a large mass of previously

 

 

 

           3  unregulated land within the ambit of federal

 

 

 

           4  jurisdiction.  And for any that might remain

 

 

 

           5  beyond the Agencies' reach per se, the catch-all

 

 

 

           6  is proposed to allow case-by-case determinations

 

 

 

           7  for any water meeting the vaguely-defined

 

 

 

           8  significant nexus test.  The effect of these

 

 

 

           9  newly-included categories of land and water

 

 

 

          10  features is not clarity, but rather an

 

 

 

          11  inconsistent and overbroad interpretation of the

 

 

 

          12  Supreme Court's holdings and the limits of the Act

 

 

 

          13  which places virtually every river, creek and

 

 

 

          14  stream, along with vast amounts of neighboring

 

 

 

          15  lands, under the Agencies' Clean Water Act

 

 

 

          16  jurisdiction.  Many of these features are dry the

 

 

 

          17  vast majority of time and are already in use by

 

 

 

          18  farmers, developers, or homeowners.

 

 

 

          19        More importantly, the imposition of

 

 

 

          20  Clean Water Act requirements on waters and lands

 

 

 

          21  far removed from interstate commerce or navigable

 

 

 

          22  waters is harmful not only to the states

 

 

 

          23  themselves, but to the farmers, developers and

 

 

 

          24  homeowners.  Ninety-two percent of Nebraska's

 

 

 

          25  77 thousand square miles of area is used for


 

 

                                                               14

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

           1  agricultural production.  The proposal treats

 

 

 

           2  numerous isolated bodies of water as subject to

 

 

 

           3  the agencies' jurisdiction resulting in landowners

 

 

 

           4  having to seek permits or face substantial fines

 

 

 

           5  and criminal enforcement actions.  Nor must lands

 

 

 

           6  have water on it permanently, seasonly, or even

 

 

 

           7  yearly to have it be a "water" regulated under the

 

 

 

           8  Act.  And if a farmer makes a single mistake,

 

 

 

           9  perhaps not realizing that his land is covered

 

 

 

          10  under the Clean Water Act or Rapanos, he or she

 

 

 

          11  can be subject to thousands of dollars of fines

 

 

 

          12  and even prison time.

 

 

 

          13        Members of the Committee, we ask that

 

 

 

          14  Congress continue to work to ensure that the EPA

 

 

 

          15  and the Corps recognize, preserve, and protect the

 

 

 

          16  primary responsibilities and rights of the states

 

 

 

          17  to plan the development and use of land and water

 

 

 

          18  resources in our state.

 

 

 

          19        Thank you for the opportunity to be heard.

 

 

 

          20             SENATOR FISCHER:  Thank you, Mr. Lavene.

 

 

 

          21        Now I'd like to go through a series of

 

 

 

          22  questions with you, if we could.

 

 

 

          23             MR. LAVENE:  Okay.

 

 

 

          24             SENATOR FISCHER:  I have a number of

 

 

 

          25  questions here and I would appreciate your


 

 

                                                               15

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

           1  response to those.

 

 

 

           2        Can you talk about the role of the state in

 

 

 

           3  protecting water quality and administering the

 

 

 

           4  water protection programs, and what is that

 

 

 

           5  cooperative federalism that we hear about and why

 

 

 

           6  is it so important that states have that strong

 

 

 

           7  role in water protection?

 

 

 

           8             MR. LAVENE:  Sure.

 

 

 

           9        With regard to the state protecting water,

 

 

 

          10  as I kind of mentioned in my testimony, and this

 

 

 

          11  kind of gets into, obviously, the cooperative

 

 

 

          12  federalism issue, we have a situation where under

 

 

 

          13  the Clean Water Act federal government regulates a

 

 

 

          14  portion of the Act's responsibilities.  And the

 

 

 

          15  State of Nebraska separately administers some of

 

 

 

          16  the other programs.  As I stated before, the

 

 

 

          17  Department of Environmental Quality in the State

 

 

 

          18  of Nebraska regulates discharge permits under

 

 

 

          19  Section 402, water quality standards, and total

 

 

 

          20  maximum daily loads under 303, and also water

 

 

 

          21  quality certifications under -- under Section 401.

 

 

 

          22  Again, it's a shared responsibility that is --

 

 

 

          23  it's basically the function of the cooperative

 

 

 

          24  federalism.  And that is basically shared

 

 

 

          25  responsibility between state and federal


 

 

                                                               16

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

           1  governments to implement these laws.  Now, part of

 

 

 

           2  the reason that that occurs is that both the

 

 

 

           3  federal government and the states have somewhat

 

 

 

           4  separate interests.  The federal government does

 

 

 

           5  have an interest in protecting interstate streams.

 

 

 

           6  So that is originally why the Act was passed

 

 

 

           7  dealing with "waters of the U.S." that were

 

 

 

           8  basically navigable in fact.  But the states have

 

 

 

           9  always historically had a strong interest in

 

 

 

          10  protecting waters in the state itself.  So

 

 

 

          11  interstate land use and water issues.  And so in

 

 

 

          12  examining that and looking at the Clean Water Act,

 

 

 

          13  it's appropriate that the state perform the

 

 

 

          14  function of dealing with those intrastate waters.

 

 

 

          15  Especially those that would allow, in fact,

 

 

 

          16  interstate commerce.  And so, again, that

 

 

 

          17  cooperative federalism is out there, and I think

 

 

 

          18  it works well and has worked well for a number of

 

 

 

          19  years under the current definition of "waters of

 

 

 

          20  the United States".  The problem here is you --

 

 

 

          21  you get to a point where that cooperative

 

 

 

          22  federalism could come into jeopardy, and I think

 

 

 

          23  that's because you have a situation where the

 

 

 

          24  federal government is -- through this new

 

 

 

          25  definition, would be inserting itself or


 

 

                                                               17

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

           1  interjecting itself into some of the primary

 

 

 

           2  responsibilities of the state.  And that is

 

 

 

           3  reaching out into intrastate waters that should be

 

 

 

           4  solely regulated by the state and not the federal

 

 

 

           5  government.

 

 

 

           6             SENATOR FISCHER:  And when you talk

 

 

 

           7  about the permitting decisions that are -- that

 

 

 

           8  are currently out there, those are

 

 

 

           9  state-administered programs; correct?

 

 

 

          10             MR. LAVENE:  Yes.

 

 

 

          11             SENATOR FISCHER:  And this proposed

 

 

 

          12  rule -- well, if we're going to apply this

 

 

 

          13  expanded definition now to state programs, what do

 

 

 

          14  you think the impact would be on the Nebraska

 

 

 

          15  Department of Environmental Quality?

 

 

 

          16             MR. LAVENE:  Well, part of the problem

 

 

 

          17  here is, again, I probably mentioned a couple of

 

 

 

          18  themes or topics here a couple of times, but the

 

 

 

          19  State of Nebraska and its ability to implement and

 

 

 

          20  administer those federal programs under the Clean

 

 

 

          21  Water Act, the State of Nebraska must go through a

 

 

 

          22  process of adopting state statutes.  And then the

 

 

 

          23  Department must go through a process of adopting

 

 

 

          24  rules and regulations.  Now, those states and

 

 

 

          25  those rules and regulations need to be approved by


 

 

                                                               18

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

           1  the Environmental Protection Agency to make sure

 

 

 

           2  that they're consistent with the -- the Clean

 

 

 

           3  Water Act and the provisions there.  And they at

 

 

 

           4  least need to be as stringent as -- as the federal

 

 

 

           5  law.  One good example that I think I discussed in

 

 

 

           6  my testimony is that the State of Nebraska has its

 

 

 

           7  own statutory definition of "waters of the state."

 

 

 

           8  And it is different than the definition placed on

 

 

 

           9  federal laws of "waters of the United States."

 

 

 

          10  But that definition as codified in Nebraska state

 

 

 

          11  statutes has been approved by the Environmental

 

 

 

          12  Protection Agency and has been regulated.  That

 

 

 

          13  definition has been used and regulative of Clean

 

 

 

          14  Water Act programs.  The problem here, moving

 

 

 

          15  forward then, is in how it will affect the

 

 

 

          16  Department.  I think there's a lot of uncertainty

 

 

 

          17  with regard to how the new definition is going to

 

 

 

          18  affect their administration.  Will the agency have

 

 

 

          19  to go back and go through another review process

 

 

 

          20  with the EPA with regard to this new definition

 

 

 

          21  and our current state laws and rules and

 

 

 

          22  regulations?  That's somewhat of an unknown.  We

 

 

 

          23  don't know if we have to do that.  We don't know

 

 

 

          24  if we'd have to change the definition of the

 

 

 

          25  "waters of the state."  We don't know if we'd have


 

 

                                                               19

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

           1  to basically amend those rules and regulations.

 

 

 

           2  Basically what I'm saying is, we're not sure that

 

 

 

           3  our actions today are currently appropriate under

 

 

 

           4  the new definition or if the changes are going to

 

 

 

           5  have to be made for us to continue to administer

 

 

 

           6  those programs.

 

 

 

           7             SENATOR FISCHER:  And I understand that

 

 

 

           8  this rule is going to expand the practice on a

 

 

 

           9  case-by-case jurisdictional determination.  How is

 

 

 

          10  that going to really impact our state operations;

 

 

 

          11  do you have any idea?  I mean, I know there's a

 

 

 

          12  lot of unknowns out there, but how -- how do you

 

 

 

          13  think that will impact the operations here in the

 

 

 

          14  State of Nebraska?

 

 

 

          15             MR. LAVENE:  I -- I think it's going to

 

 

 

          16  cause some confusion on behalf of both the

 

 

 

          17  Agencies and the individuals that will be

 

 

 

          18  regulated.  I think what you have here is, under

 

 

 

          19  this new definition, you're going to have

 

 

 

          20  basically a per se -- basically an increase in the

 

 

 

          21  per se categorical determination of what is a

 

 

 

          22  "water of the U.S."  And so that's going to expand

 

 

 

          23  geographically in the state to encompass waters

 

 

 

          24  that probably were previously not under the

 

 

 

          25  jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act.  But in doing


 

 

                                                               20

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

           1  so you're also going to leave some isolated bodies

 

 

 

           2  of water out of there that there are going to be

 

 

 

           3  questions on.  Basically, when you look at the

 

 

 

           4  proposed rule and definition and what these

 

 

 

           5  isolated waters are, these other waters, if you

 

 

 

           6  will, you do have to go through a case-by-case

 

 

 

           7  analysis of that, and it really determines or

 

 

 

           8  comes down to whether or not there's some

 

 

 

           9  significant nexus to a core water.  Again, the

 

 

 

          10  problem is, we're uncertain how EPA is going to

 

 

 

          11  deal with that.  And so because EPA hasn't given

 

 

 

          12  us that additional information and/or guidance on

 

 

 

          13  how they're going to handle that, the State of

 

 

 

          14  Nebraska's unsure on how we can implement our

 

 

 

          15  programs using that same definition.

 

 

 

          16             SENATOR FISCHER:  Have you requested

 

 

 

          17  guidance?

 

 

 

          18             MR. LAVENE:  We have gone through --

 

 

 

          19  well, I know that there have been various meetings

 

 

 

          20  with EPA and the Department of Environmental

 

 

 

          21  Quality prior to this rule coming on, but I don't

 

 

 

          22  think that those -- those meetings were -- I

 

 

 

          23  wouldn't consider them consultation and

 

 

 

          24  collaboration, if you will, on trying to develop

 

 

 

          25  language for the proposed rule to basically meet


 

 

                                                               21

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

           1  needs and requirements at the state level.  I

 

 

 

           2  don't think there was really that give and take,

 

 

 

           3  if you will, between the state and federal

 

 

 

           4  government.

 

 

 

           5             SENATOR FISCHER:  And you explained the

 

 

 

           6  State has been delegated authority over the Clean

 

 

 

           7  Water Act program since the '70s?

 

 

 

           8             MR. LAVENE:  Yes.

 

 

 

           9             SENATOR FISCHER:  And we have our unique

 

 

 

          10  "waters of the state" definition that's been in

 

 

 

          11  effect for 40 years; correct?

 

 

 

          12             MR. LAVENE:  Yes.

 

 

 

          13             SENATOR FISCHER:  And if the certainty

 

 

 

          14  of that definition and the four decades of

 

 

 

          15  decision making by the Nebraska Department of

 

 

 

          16  Environmental Quality is basically turned

 

 

 

          17  upside down by this proposed rule, what do you

 

 

 

          18  think's going to be the result?  And address

 

 

 

          19  liability concerns, if you would.

 

 

 

          20             MR. LAVENE:  Again, I go back to this

 

 

 

          21  common theme of confusion and uncertainty for the

 

 

 

          22  agency.  And, again, that goes back to, we are

 

 

 

          23  uncertain how the Environmental Protection Agency

 

 

 

          24  is going to interject itself into the State's

 

 

 

          25  current administration of the federal programs


 

 

                                                               22

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

           1  under the Clean Water Act.  Again, we don't know

 

 

 

           2  if new laws need to be passed, new rules need to

 

 

 

           3  be adopted.  I think the Department of

 

 

 

           4  Environmental Quality, and I think most everyone

 

 

 

           5  would agree, that the -- that the Department of

 

 

 

           6  Environmental Quality has done an outstanding job

 

 

 

           7  in the last 40 years to protect the State's water

 

 

 

           8  quality.  So if you look at it that way, we're not

 

 

 

           9  sure what issues need to be fixed.  But here,

 

 

 

          10  without knowing how we're going to proceed

 

 

 

          11  forward, you're basically going to upend that 40

 

 

 

          12  years of, basically, certainty that both the

 

 

 

          13  Agency had, along with the regulating community,

 

 

 

          14  and what they -- what they understood.  And so

 

 

 

          15  basically by doing that you're going to have

 

 

 

          16  producers out there that are now uncertain about

 

 

 

          17  whether or not an action that they might take

 

 

 

          18  could be or will be covered underneath the Clean

 

 

 

          19  Water Act, which causes concerns and also, again,

 

 

 

          20  for the agency side, for DEQ, until we get that

 

 

 

          21  guidance from EPA, we're -- we're just uncertain.

 

 

 

          22  That uncertainty and that confusion basically, in

 

 

 

          23  my mind, breeds litigation, and it -- it breeds

 

 

 

          24  potential liability on behalf of those producers.

 

 

 

          25  Because if they go out and take an action that is


 

 

                                                               23

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

           1  then, you know, after the fact determined to be

 

 

 

           2  the waters of the U.S., again, they can be exposed

 

 

 

           3  to fines and potential criminal penalties.  And so

 

 

 

           4  when you have that situation of uncertainty along

 

 

 

           5  with the potential of fines and, you know, jail

 

 

 

           6  time, you're going to get to a point where there's

 

 

 

           7  going to have to be litigation on this between

 

 

 

           8  producers and the agencies that are enforcing

 

 

 

           9  these -- these laws.

 

 

 

          10             SENATOR FISCHER:  For the benefit of the

 

 

 

          11  public here, if you could explain the holdings in

 

 

 

          12  those two Supreme Court cases that both of us

 

 

 

          13  mentioned in our statements about confirming the

 

 

 

          14  limits of the federal government's authority over

 

 

 

          15  water that Nebraska -- or that Congress has

 

 

 

          16  established in the Clean Water Act, if you could

 

 

 

          17  go into a little detail on those two cases, I'd

 

 

 

          18  appreciate it.

 

 

 

          19             MR. LAVENE:  I will.  And I'll kind of

 

 

 

          20  maybe put them together.

 

 

 

          21             SENATOR FISCHER:  Okay.

 

 

 

          22             MR. LAVENE:  They're pretty substantial.

 

 

 

          23  But the SWANCC case, or the earlier case in the

 

 

 

          24  State of Illinois, was against the Army Corps of

 

 

 

          25  Engineers.  And both SWANCC and Rapanos basically


 

 

                                                               24

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

           1  dealt with bodies of water.  In one case a pond,

 

 

 

           2  and in another case a series of wetlands.  And

 

 

 

           3  that these bodies of water are -- were adjacent to

 

 

 

           4  non-navigable tributaries.  So they were not

 

 

 

           5  directly connected to a "water of the U.S." under

 

 

 

           6  the current definition, if you will.  In the

 

 

 

           7  SWANCC case the entities that actually wanted to

 

 

 

           8  do a dredge and fill went to the Corps and asked

 

 

 

           9  whether or not they needed to have a 404 permit.

 

 

 

          10  The answer was no.  Until it was later determined

 

 

 

          11  that some birds were flying overhead and landing

 

 

 

          12  on the pond and using it like a natural habitat.

 

 

 

          13  And because they were migratory birds, the Corps

 

 

 

          14  then felt that that was something that affected

 

 

 

          15  interstate commerce.  And because it affected

 

 

 

          16  interstate commerce, the Agency felt that it would

 

 

 

          17  be determined to be waters of the U.S., which

 

 

 

          18  would be then subject to the Clean Water Act

 

 

 

          19  jurisdiction and requirements of a 404 permit.

 

 

 

          20        In that case you basically had a decision

 

 

 

          21  that the Court said, that's way too tenuous of a

 

 

 

          22  line to draw between an interstate commerce for

 

 

 

          23  migratory birds and a body of water that does not

 

 

 

          24  meet a navigable stream.  And so that was one

 

 

 

          25  limitation on the federal government in SWANCC.


 

 

                                                               25

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

           1  The other one, in Rapanos, there are actually two

 

 

 

           2  opinions that came out, the plurality opinion and

 

 

 

           3  an opinion by Justice Kennedy.  Both of these were

 

 

 

           4  dealing with the secondary water issues

 

 

 

           5  definitions.  The two opinions kind of had a

 

 

 

           6  different viewpoint on how they should analyze it.

 

 

 

           7  However, they both came to the conclusion that

 

 

 

           8  these wetlands should not be considered waters of

 

 

 

           9  the U.S. and there's a limit on that jurisdiction

 

 

 

          10  by the federal government.  The plurality opinion

 

 

 

          11  in that case basically stated that these secondary

 

 

 

          12  waters with these wetlands, that there needed to

 

 

 

          13  be some continuous surface water connection to a

 

 

 

          14  permanent water.  And so you had to have a strong

 

 

 

          15  connection, a permanent connection to a navigable

 

 

 

          16  water.  Justice Kennedy took a little different

 

 

 

          17  tack to it.  But he basically came out and said,

 

 

 

          18  look, there at least has to be a significant nexus

 

 

 

          19  from the secondary water to an in fact navigable

 

 

 

          20  water.  And when he was going through that -- that

 

 

 

          21  ruling, or his decision in that, you know, if

 

 

 

          22  someone would look at that as a hydrologic

 

 

 

          23  connection, but it had to be more than a

 

 

 

          24  hydrologic connection, it had to be something that

 

 

 

          25  really dealt with the science or biological or


 

 

                                                               26

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

           1  chemical makeup of the wetland affecting that

 

 

 

           2  navigable water.

 

 

 

           3        And so both of those cases, what they did

 

 

 

           4  was truly limit the scope of the agency in the

 

 

 

           5  jurisdictional waters of the U.S. by saying, if

 

 

 

           6  there's not a connection then it's not going to be

 

 

 

           7  underneath the purview of the federal government

 

 

 

           8  for a 404 permit.

 

 

 

           9             SENATOR FISCHER:  So let me ask you, in

 

 

 

          10  your legal opinion, do you think this proposal by

 

 

 

          11  the EPA and the Corps would adhere to or violate

 

 

 

          12  those Supreme Court decisions?

 

 

 

          13             MR. LAVENE:  Well, along the lines with

 

 

 

          14  some previous comments that the Attorney General

 

 

 

          15  of the State of Nebraska, along with a couple

 

 

 

          16  other Attorney Generals sent for comments on this,

 

 

 

          17  we feel that the rule does violate the previous

 

 

 

          18  decisions of the Supreme Court in limiting that

 

 

 

          19  jurisdiction.  And the reason for that really

 

 

 

          20  comes down to is, we have a situation, as I

 

 

 

          21  explained before, is -- is you're having a

 

 

 

          22  definition that now is going to have a per se

 

 

 

          23  expansion of and categorical jurisdiction over

 

 

 

          24  these lands and these waters.  If it's in a

 

 

 

          25  tributary area with an adjacent water, that could


 

 

                                                               27

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

           1  be neighboring, in a repairing area or a

 

 

 

           2  floodplain area, if that is determined to be, as a

 

 

 

           3  fact, a definitional term, it doesn't matter what

 

 

 

           4  connection that body of water actually has to a

 

 

 

           5  navigable water.  It simply is per se determined

 

 

 

           6  to be waters of the U.S.  And so what that does is

 

 

 

           7  basically strip away the analysis that the

 

 

 

           8  Supreme Court said you had to go through, and that

 

 

 

           9  is, in the one instance, to at least have a

 

 

 

          10  continuous surface water connection to that core

 

 

 

          11  water, or at least have a very significant nexus

 

 

 

          12  to the core water.  We're not making that

 

 

 

          13  determination.  We're simply making a per se

 

 

 

          14  determination that, with a wave of our hands, it's

 

 

 

          15  under the jurisdiction of the federal government.

 

 

 

          16  That's going to be the problem moving forward and

 

 

 

          17  why this appears to violate the Supreme Court

 

 

 

          18  rulings.

 

 

 

          19             SENATOR FISCHER:  And I understand one

 

 

 

          20  of your roles in the Justice Department is to

 

 

 

          21  enforce the Clean Water Act.  Do you know what the

 

 

 

          22  consequences are with the penalties in violation

 

 

 

          23  of that Act?  Can you explain those, please?

 

 

 

          24             MR. LAVENE:  I'll explain the state

 

 

 

          25  level a little bit clearer than probably the


 

 

                                                               28

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

           1  federal government.

 

 

 

           2        But in the State of Nebraska for -- for

 

 

 

           3  having a, basically a discharge into the stream or

 

 

 

           4  adding a pollutant to the stream without a permit,

 

 

 

           5  that can be either a Class IV felony or you could

 

 

 

           6  have fines up to $10,000 per day.  Under the

 

 

 

           7  federal -- federal penalties, depending on whether

 

 

 

           8  it's a known violation or the like, the fines per

 

 

 

           9  day could go anywhere from $2500 up to $50,000 per

 

 

 

          10  day.  And there are also various criminal

 

 

 

          11  sanctions that -- if you're polluting the streams.

 

 

 

          12  And so, as I kind of stated before, those are

 

 

 

          13  pretty big fines, penalties, and possibly criminal

 

 

 

          14  sanctions that could be imposed against an

 

 

 

          15  individual if they're violating this act.

 

 

 

          16             SENATOR FISCHER:  Okay.  And, in your

 

 

 

          17  opinion, do you think this proposed rule is going

 

 

 

          18  to, I guess, offer any additional protections to

 

 

 

          19  water quality?

 

 

 

          20             MR. LAVENE:  As I've stated before, I

 

 

 

          21  think the Department of Environmental Quality in

 

 

 

          22  the State of Nebraska, with its 40 years of

 

 

 

          23  history of implementing these federal programs and

 

 

 

          24  the Clean Water Act, I think they've done a

 

 

 

          25  wonderful job.  Without having further guidance


 

 

                                                               29

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

           1  and information from the federal government on how

 

 

 

           2  they're going to interpret this new rule, it

 

 

 

           3  really -- it's really hard, if not impossible, to

 

 

 

           4  determine what benefits would come out of it.

 

 

 

           5             SENATOR FISCHER:  Okay.  So let me see

 

 

 

           6  if I have this correct from everything you said.

 

 

 

           7  We have a proposed rule that's going to infringe

 

 

 

           8  on the state's authority to protect and manage our

 

 

 

           9  water resources; it will disrupt the successful

 

 

 

          10  operation and certainty of our state-run programs;

 

 

 

          11  it will create administrative burdens for our

 

 

 

          12  Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality; it

 

 

 

          13  will increase litigation and liability exposure

 

 

 

          14  for our people and businesses; it will violate

 

 

 

          15  Supreme Court rulings on the limits of federal

 

 

 

          16  authority under the Clean Water Act; and you don't

 

 

 

          17  believe that there would be meaningful benefits to

 

 

 

          18  this in the end?  Did I sum you up pretty well

 

 

 

          19  here?

 

 

 

          20             MR. LAVENE:  I'd say that's a pretty

 

 

 

          21  good summary, yes.

 

 

 

          22             SENATOR FISCHER:  Okay.  Good.

 

 

 

          23        I thank you for your testimony before the

 

 

 

          24  Committee, Mr. Lavene, and appreciate you taking

 

 

 

          25  time to be with us today.  Thank you.


 

 

                                                               30

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

           1             MR. LAVENE:  Thank you, Senator Fischer.

 

 

 

           2             SENATOR FISCHER:  With that, I would ask

 

 

 

           3  that our second panel please come up.

 

 

 

           4                         (Short break taken

 

                                     accordingly -- 10:35 a.m.)

 

           5

 

 

 

           6             SENATOR FISCHER:  Well, I would like to

 

 

 

           7  welcome the second panel to the table.  There are

 

 

 

           8  several excellent witnesses representing a very

 

 

 

           9  diverse group of stakeholders, and they can speak

 

 

 

          10  more of the impacts of the proposed rule and what

 

 

 

          11  that will have on citizens, businesses, counties,

 

 

 

          12  and livelihoods.

 

 

 

          13        We are going to begin with Mary Ann

 

 

 

          14  Borgeson.  She is the Chair of the Douglas County

 

 

 

          15  Board of Commissioners.  Commissioner Borgeson

 

 

 

          16  is a native of Omaha and became the first

 

 

 

          17  female to chair the Douglas County Board in

 

 

 

          18  1997.  In addition to serving as chair,

 

 

 

          19  Commissioner Borgeson serves on the Board of

 

 

 

          20  Directors for both the Nebraska Association of

 

 

 

          21  Counties and the National Association of Counties.

 

 

 

          22  She is currently the president-elect for Women of

 

 

 

          23  the National Association of Counties.

 

 

 

          24        Commissioner, I am eager to hear how this

 

 

 

          25  proposed rule will impact our counties and


 

 

                                                               31

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

           1  communities.  Please begin your testimony whenever

 

 

 

           2  you're ready.

 

 

 

           3             MS. BORGESON:  Thank you,

 

 

 

           4  Senator Fischer, for the opportunity to testify on

 

 

 

           5  the "Waters of the United States" proposed rule

 

 

 

           6  and the potential impact on county governments.

 

 

 

           7        For the record, I have submitted a narrative

 

 

 

           8  of my testimony that includes additional

 

 

 

           9  information.

 

 

 

          10        On a National level, the National

 

 

 

          11  Association of Counties, or NACo, has urged the

 

 

 

          12  federal agencies to withdraw the proposed rule

 

 

 

          13  until further analysis of its potential impacts

 

 

 

          14  has been completed.  Douglas County concurs with

 

 

 

          15  that recommendation.

 

 

 

          16        Clean water is essential to all our nation's

 

 

 

          17  counties.  The availability of an adequate supply

 

 

 

          18  of clean water is vital to our nation, and

 

 

 

          19  integrated and cooperative programs at all levels

 

 

 

          20  of government are necessary to protecting water

 

 

 

          21  quality.

 

 

 

          22        Douglas County is a "Phase II" community

 

 

 

          23  under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination

 

 

 

          24  System, or NPDES, the section of the Clean Water

 

 

 

          25  Act.  A major emphasis of the County's Stormwater


 

 

                                                               32

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

           1  Management Plan is to improve water quality by

 

 

 

           2  reducing stormwater runoff volumes.  This approach

 

 

 

           3  is lockstep with EPA's push to implement

 

 

 

           4  "green infrastructure" as a key strategy to

 

 

 

           5  improve our nation's overall water quality.

 

 

 

           6  Simply put, green infrastructure can have a

 

 

 

           7  significant positive benefit for water quality,

 

 

 

           8  and with this being an EPA priority, it is

 

 

 

           9  essential that the proposed "Waters of the U.S."

 

 

 

          10  rule be supportive, and not contradictory to, the

 

 

 

          11  continued implementation of green infrastructure

 

 

 

          12  across the country.  Put another way, if the

 

 

 

          13  "Waters of the U.S." rule negatively impacts the

 

 

 

          14  implementation of green infrastructure, it will

 

 

 

          15  mean more taxpayer dollars being wasted on process

 

 

 

          16  rather than being directly spent on water quality

 

 

 

          17  improvements.

 

 

 

          18        Counties own and maintain a wide variety of

 

 

 

          19  infrastructure that is impacted by the current

 

 

 

          20  regulations and that would be further impacted by

 

 

 

          21  the proposed rule.

 

 

 

          22        Projects we are working on already

 

 

 

          23  significantly impacted by the current regulations

 

 

 

          24  are given the lack of clarity in the proposed

 

 

 

          25  rule.  We anticipate additional negative impacts.


 

 

                                                               33

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

           1  One of our current projects is a prime example of

 

 

 

           2  how cumbersome and expensive the for bidding

 

 

 

           3  process is, and the costly delays are largely due

 

 

 

           4  to the inconsistencies in the application of the

 

 

 

           5  rules and the lack of definitions.  Our 180th

 

 

 

           6  Street project will improve the section line roads

 

 

 

           7  from the Old Lincoln Highway to West Maple Road.

 

 

 

           8  Besides providing easier access to new developing

 

 

 

           9  areas, it will relieve the traffic -- it will

 

 

 

          10  relieve the traffic load on Old Lincoln Highway,

 

 

 

          11  which is on the National Registry, and on the

 

 

 

          12  section line road.  The immediate area is

 

 

 

          13  currently being passed over for most development

 

 

 

          14  due to a lack of access to major roads --

 

 

 

          15  roadways, including the Expressway to the south.

 

 

 

          16  The project includes two 900-foot bridges over

 

 

 

          17  railroad tracks and a flowing creek and two other

 

 

 

          18  bridges over an unnamed tributary.  The initial

 

 

 

          19  environmental permitting process for these bridges

 

 

 

          20  went relatively smoothly and involved a

 

 

 

          21  Categorical Exclusion, the lowest level of

 

 

 

          22  environmental involvement.  The process began in

 

 

 

          23  2002, with the construction originally scheduled

 

 

 

          24  for 2010.  Design and permitting work began in

 

 

 

          25  2005.  But the environmental documents are still


 

 

                                                               34

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

           1  not signed.  The newest projected construction

 

 

 

           2  date is now 2018 because of these delays.

 

 

 

           3        The reason for the delays is a small county

 

 

 

           4  road ditch which is several feet deep and wide and

 

 

 

           5  full of weeds and grasses with a rut at the bottom

 

 

 

           6  approximately eight inches wide and an inch deep.

 

 

 

           7  There is no ordinary, quote, high -- quote,

 

 

 

           8  Ordinary High Water Mark, unquote, associated with

 

 

 

           9  this rut because when it rains it is completely

 

 

 

          10  under water.  However, the Corps of Engineers has

 

 

 

          11  declared this rut a "water of the U.S.," prompting

 

 

 

          12  a redesign of the project costing the County

 

 

 

          13  hundreds of thousands of dollars in delaying this

 

 

 

          14  project.

 

 

 

          15        An additional concern is storm water

 

 

 

          16  clean-up.  We deal with disasters such as flooding

 

 

 

          17  and wind storms regularly, and these types of

 

 

 

          18  storms impact many ditches, culverts, and

 

 

 

          19  tributaries.  Trying to get permits is already a

 

 

 

          20  problem in these situations.  Our country has made

 

 

 

          21  tremendous strides in improving water quality

 

 

 

          22  since the inception of the Clean Water Act, but if

 

 

 

          23  the process is not clarified and streamlined, more

 

 

 

          24  counties will experience delays in safeguarding

 

 

 

          25  and caring for infrastructure and expend


 

 

                                                               35

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

           1  substantial dollars in doing so.  Dollars that

 

 

 

           2  could instead be spent on direct improvement of

 

 

 

           3  water quality.

 

 

 

           4        To reiterate my prior point, I ask that the

 

 

 

           5  proposed rule be withdrawn until further analysis

 

 

 

           6  and consultation with state and local

 

 

 

           7  representatives have been completed.

 

 

 

           8        Again, I thank you for the opportunity to

 

 

 

           9  testify on the proposed "Waters of the U.S." rule,

 

 

 

          10  and I do welcome the opportunity to address any

 

 

 

          11  questions you may have later.

 

 

 

          12             SENATOR FISCHER:  Thank you,

 

 

 

          13  Commissioner.

 

 

 

          14        Next I would like to welcome Mrs. Barb

 

 

 

          15  Cooksley, the president-elect of the Nebraska

 

 

 

          16  Cattlemen.  Barb and her family raise cattle on

 

 

 

          17  their ranch near Anselmo, Nebraska where they

 

 

 

          18  pride themselves on being good stewards of the

 

 

 

          19  land and water resources.  I'm looking forward to

 

 

 

          20  Barb's testimony which will offer great insight on

 

 

 

          21  how the proposed "Waters of the U.S." rule will

 

 

 

          22  affect this very special Nebraska way of life.

 

 

 

          23        Barb, please begin your testimony

 

 

 

          24             MS. COOKSLEY:  Thank you, Senator.

 

 

 

          25        Good morning.  My name is Barb Cooksley.  My


 

 

                                                               36

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

           1  family raises cattle on our ranch near Anselmo,

 

 

 

           2  Nebraska.  I am president-elect of Nebraska

 

 

 

           3  Cattlemen, and thank you for allowing me to

 

 

 

           4  testify today on the impacts of the Environmental

 

 

 

           5  Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers'

 

 

 

           6  proposed rule on the "waters of the United

 

 

 

           7  States."  I'm here today representing Nebraska

 

 

 

           8  Cattlemen's 3,000 plus members but I'm also happy

 

 

 

           9  to lend my voice to nearly 50,000 ag producers in

 

 

 

          10  Nebraska.  In addition to my service to Nebraska

 

 

 

          11  Cattlemen, I currently serve on several

 

 

 

          12  environmental boards and committees for the areas

 

 

 

          13  and state.  Land stewardship has been my family's

 

 

 

          14  priority for generations.

 

 

 

          15        First and foremost, I want to thank you for

 

 

 

          16  your interest in this issue and for continuing to

 

 

 

          17  be engaged, because EPA intends to finalize the

 

 

 

          18  WOTUS rule by sometime this year.  I'm also

 

 

 

          19  thankful Congress included language in the omnibus

 

 

 

          20  package that led to the withdrawal of EPA's

 

 

 

          21  Interpretive Rule.  That rule was problematic and

 

 

 

          22  did not provide clarity or certainty for

 

 

 

          23  agriculture.

 

 

 

          24        Animal ag producers pride themselves on

 

 

 

          25  being good stewards of our country's natural


 

 

                                                               37

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

           1  resources.  We maintain open spaces, healthy

 

 

 

           2  rangelands, provide wildlife habitat while working

 

 

 

           3  to feed the world.  But to provide all these

 

 

 

           4  important functions, we must be able to operate

 

 

 

           5  without excessive federal burdens like the one

 

 

 

           6  we're discussing today.  As a beef producer, I can

 

 

 

           7  tell you after reading the proposed rule it has

 

 

 

           8  the potential to impact every aspect of our

 

 

 

           9  family's operation and others like it by

 

 

 

          10  regulating potentially every water feature on my

 

 

 

          11  land.  What's worse is the ambiguity in the

 

 

 

          12  proposed rule that makes it difficult, if not

 

 

 

          13  impossible, to determine just how much our family

 

 

 

          14  ranch will be affected.  This ambiguity places all

 

 

 

          15  landowners in a position of uncertainty and

 

 

 

          16  inequity.  Because of this, I ask the EPA and Army

 

 

 

          17  Corp of Engineers to withdraw the proposed rule

 

 

 

          18  and sit down with farmers and ranchers to discuss

 

 

 

          19  our concerns and viable solutions before any

 

 

 

          20  additional action.

 

 

 

          21        I would like to use my time here this

 

 

 

          22  morning to show you why this rule is problematic

 

 

 

          23  for operations like mine and show you some

 

 

 

          24  pictures to help color the issues.

 

 

 

          25        Welcome to just outside Anselmo, Nebraska.


 

 

                                                               38

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

           1  In this picture you will see the home place for

 

 

 

           2  our ranching operation.  There are several homes

 

 

 

           3  on this site since we operate the ranch alongside

 

 

 

           4  two additional generations of family members.  Our

 

 

 

           5  ranch sits in the pristine Nebraska Sandhills.

 

 

 

           6  The Sandhills are a unique ecosystem of

 

 

 

           7  mixed-grass prairie that has grown on top of

 

 

 

           8  stabilized sand dunes.  We use cattle to manage

 

 

 

           9  this land to ensure this unique ecosystem is

 

 

 

          10  protected and maintained rather than deteriorating

 

 

 

          11  and literally blowing away

 

 

 

          12        This is an aerial photo that's been zoomed

 

 

 

          13  out slightly.  What look like waves are actually

 

 

 

          14  the rolling hills of sand dunes, natural

 

 

 

          15  depressions, draws, and dry ruts that may have

 

 

 

          16  water in them seasonally.  What you cannot see is

 

 

 

          17  the unique feature of the Sandhills which is its

 

 

 

          18  close connection to groundwater supplies.  This

 

 

 

          19  close connection makes it possible for grass to be

 

 

 

          20  grown on top of the sand dunes.  And at times

 

 

 

          21  ponds can literally spring up in these depressions

 

 

 

          22  of the Sandhills out of nowhere because of this

 

 

 

          23  connection.  However, within a matter of months,

 

 

 

          24  and perhaps for several years, the water may be

 

 

 

          25  gone again.  As you can see, currently there is no


 

 

                                                               39

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

           1  water here.  But the question is, is that dried up

 

 

 

           2  natural depression a WOTUS?  Are my seasonally

 

 

 

           3  flowing draws an ephemeral stream?  There's no

 

 

 

           4  water in the draw, but the proposed rule suggests

 

 

 

           5  these features could be jurisdictional.  If so,

 

 

 

           6  will I be required to obtain a permit to conduct

 

 

 

           7  daily activities across my entire property, such

 

 

 

           8  as building a fence or moving cattle from pasture

 

 

 

           9  to pasture?

 

 

 

          10        Here's a pond with water in it and one

 

 

 

          11  without.  This water occurs naturally.  Cattle and

 

 

 

          12  wildlife utilize this water.  And producers want

 

 

 

          13  to be able to allow cattle to use this

 

 

 

          14  naturally-occurring water body.  If this pond is

 

 

 

          15  jurisdictional under the WOTUS rule, would cattle

 

 

 

          16  or wildlife waste in the water constitute a

 

 

 

          17  discharge that I would need a permit for?  It may

 

 

 

          18  sound silly to say that but in my interpretation,

 

 

 

          19  and many others' interpretations, it suggests just

 

 

 

          20  that.

 

 

 

          21        Here's a photo of the same ponds where you

 

 

 

          22  can see they are near an eroded channel that runs

 

 

 

          23  to the Middle Loop River.  At times, water does

 

 

 

          24  run off into this channel.  Here's where it gets

 

 

 

          25  put all together and see how the proposed rule


 

 

                                                               40

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

           1  expands federal jurisdiction.  In the top right

 

 

 

           2  corner is the Middle Loop River.  This river is an

 

 

 

           3  interstate water and falls under federal

 

 

 

           4  jurisdiction.  That's uncontested.  Now just to

 

 

 

           5  the left, the eroded channel, the beige squiggly

 

 

 

           6  line, now it's questionable whether this channel

 

 

 

           7  would have been considered federal water prior to

 

 

 

           8  the WOTUS rule.  But now will most likely be

 

 

 

           9  deemed a tributary that meets the definition of a

 

 

 

          10  WOTUS.  And under the proposed rule, every water

 

 

 

          11  body adjacent to a tributary is a WOTUS too.  It

 

 

 

          12  appears to me they would be federal waters under

 

 

 

          13  the proposed rule.  If they are indeed "Waters of

 

 

 

          14  the U.S.," I will need permits to conduct everyday

 

 

 

          15  account activities through those waters.  Permits

 

 

 

          16  that will cost my family time and money.  We will

 

 

 

          17  continue to do our part for the environment but

 

 

 

          18  this ambiguous and expansive proposed rule does

 

 

 

          19  not help us achieve that.

 

 

 

          20        We look forward to working with the

 

 

 

          21  Environment and Public Works Committee to insure

 

 

 

          22  we have the ability to do what we do best, produce

 

 

 

          23  the world's safest, most nutritional, abundant and

 

 

 

          24  afford able protein, while giving the consumers

 

 

 

          25  the choice they deserve.  Together we can sustain


 

 

                                                               41

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

           1  our country's excellence and prosperity and insure

 

 

 

           2  the viability of our way of life for future

 

 

 

           3  generations.

 

 

 

           4        I appreciate the opportunity to visit with

 

 

 

           5  you today.  Thank you.

 

 

 

           6             SENATOR FISCHER:  Thank you very much,

 

 

 

           7  Barb, for providing that perspective on the

 

 

 

           8  agricultural industry.

 

 

 

           9        Next we have Mr. Donald Wisnieski.  He is

 

 

 

          10  president of the Nebraska State Home Builders

 

 

 

          11  Association.  A native of Norfolk, Don is the

 

 

 

          12  owner of Wisnieski Construction which has served

 

 

 

          13  the Norfolk community since 1986, primarily

 

 

 

          14  focusing on custom home building.

 

 

 

          15        Don, you are to be commended for your

 

 

 

          16  community service and operating that successful

 

 

 

          17  small business for almost three decades.  When

 

 

 

          18  you're ready, please begin your testimony

 

 

 

          19             MR. WISNIESKI:  Thank you.

 

 

 

          20  Senator Fischer, thank you for the opportunity to

 

 

 

          21  testify today.

 

 

 

          22        As stated, my name is Don Wisnieski.  I'm

 

 

 

          23  the president of Wisnieski Construction located in

 

 

 

          24  Norfolk.  I also serve as the 2015 President of

 

 

 

          25  the Nebraska State Home Builders Association.


 

 

                                                               42

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

           1  Home builders have been an advocate for the

 

 

 

           2  Clean Water Act since its inception.  We have a

 

 

 

           3  responsibility to protect the environment.  And it

 

 

 

           4  is a responsibility I know well because I must

 

 

 

           5  often obtain permits for building projects.  When

 

 

 

           6  it comes to federal regulatory requirements, what

 

 

 

           7  I desire as a small business owner is a permitting

 

 

 

           8  process that is consistent, timely, and focused on

 

 

 

           9  protecting true aquatic resources.

 

 

 

          10        Landowners have been frustrated with the

 

 

 

          11  continued uncertainty over the scope of the Clean

 

 

 

          12  Water Act over waters of the United States.  There

 

 

 

          13  is a need for additional clarity, and the

 

 

 

          14  administration recently proposed a rule intended

 

 

 

          15  to do just that.  Unfortunately, that proposed

 

 

 

          16  rule falls short.  There is no certainty under

 

 

 

          17  this proposal, just the expansion of federal

 

 

 

          18  authority.  These changes will not even improve

 

 

 

          19  water quality, as the rule improperly encompasses

 

 

 

          20  waters that are already regulated at the state

 

 

 

          21  level.  The rule would establish broader

 

 

 

          22  definitions of existing regulatory categories such

 

 

 

          23  as tributaries and regulates new areas that are

 

 

 

          24  not currently federally regulated, such as an --

 

 

 

          25  adjacent non-wetlands, repairing areas,


 

 

                                                               43

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

           1  floodplains, and other water areas.  And these

 

 

 

           2  changes are far reaching, affecting all Clean

 

 

 

           3  Water Act programs but no -- but provides no

 

 

 

           4  additional protections for most of these areas

 

 

 

           5  already comfortably resting under the state and

 

 

 

           6  local authorities.

 

 

 

           7        I'm also concerned that the terms are

 

 

 

           8  overly broad, giving the agencies broad authority

 

 

 

           9  to interpret them.  I need to know the rules.  I

 

 

 

          10  can't play a guessing game of, is it

 

 

 

          11  jurisdictional.  We don't need a set of new vague

 

 

 

          12  and convoluted definitions.  Under the Clean Water

 

 

 

          13  Act, Congress intended to create a partnership

 

 

 

          14  between federal agencies and the state governments

 

 

 

          15  to protect our nation's water resources.  There is

 

 

 

          16  a point where federal authority ends and the state

 

 

 

          17  authority begins.  And the Supreme Court has twice

 

 

 

          18  affirmed that the Clean Water Act places limits on

 

 

 

          19  federal authority over waters.  And the states do

 

 

 

          20  regulate the waters under their jurisdiction.

 

 

 

          21  Nebraska takes its responsibilities to protect its

 

 

 

          22  natural resources seriously.

 

 

 

          23        If you look around the country, you'll find

 

 

 

          24  that many of the states are protecting their

 

 

 

          25  natural resources more aggressively since the


 

 

                                                               44

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

           1  passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972.

 

 

 

           2        The proposed rule will have significant

 

 

 

           3  impacts on my business.  Construction projects

 

 

 

           4  rely on efficient, timely, and consistent

 

 

 

           5  permitting procedures and review processes under

 

 

 

           6  the Clean Water Act programs.  An onerous

 

 

 

           7  permitting process could delay projects which

 

 

 

           8  leads to greater risk and higher costs.  Also,

 

 

 

           9  more federal permitting actions will trigger

 

 

 

          10  additional statutory reviews by outside agencies

 

 

 

          11  under laws including the Endangered Species Acts,

 

 

 

          12  the National Historic Prevention Act, the National

 

 

 

          13  Environmental Policy Act.  It's doubtful that

 

 

 

          14  these agencies will have the equipment to handle

 

 

 

          15  these inflow of additional permitting requests.

 

 

 

          16        I am uncertain of what the environmental

 

 

 

          17  benefits are gained by this paperwork.  But I am

 

 

 

          18  certain of the massive delays of permittings that

 

 

 

          19  will result.  The cost of obtaining Clean Water

 

 

 

          20  Act permits range from close to 29,000 all the way

 

 

 

          21  up to close to $272,000.  Permitting delays will

 

 

 

          22  only increase these costs and prevent me from

 

 

 

          23  expanding my business and in hiring more

 

 

 

          24  employees.

 

 

 

          25        The agencies have not considered the


 

 

                                                               45

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

           1  unintended consequences of this rule.  Under this

 

 

 

           2  proposed rule, Low Impact Development stormwater

 

 

 

           3  controls could be federally jurisdictional.  Many

 

 

 

           4  of our builders voluntarily select LID controls,

 

 

 

           5  such as rain gardens and swells for the general

 

 

 

           6  benefit of our communities.  This rule would

 

 

 

           7  discourage these voluntary projects if they

 

 

 

           8  require federal permits.

 

 

 

           9        This proposed rule does not add new

 

 

 

          10  protections for our nation's water resources, it

 

 

 

          11  just shifts the regulatory authority from the

 

 

 

          12  states to the federal government.  The proposed

 

 

 

          13  rule is inconsistent with previous Supreme Court

 

 

 

          14  decision and expands the scope of waters to

 

 

 

          15  federally regulated beyond what Congress

 

 

 

          16  envisioned.  Any final rule should be

 

 

 

          17  considered -- or consistent with the

 

 

 

          18  Supreme Court's decisions, provide understandable

 

 

 

          19  definitions, and preserve the partnership between

 

 

 

          20  all levels of government.  All are sorely lacking

 

 

 

          21  here.

 

 

 

          22        I want to thank you for the opportunity to

 

 

 

          23  testify.  And I do look forward to any questions

 

 

 

          24  you may have, Senator.  Thank you.

 

 

 

          25             SENATOR FISCHER:  Thank you, Don.


 

 

                                                               46

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

           1        I would like to welcome Mr. John Crabtree.

 

 

 

           2  Mr. Crabtree is the Media Director for the Center

 

 

 

           3  of Rural Affairs which has accomplished

 

 

 

           4  commendable work on rural development

 

 

 

           5  opportunities throughout our state.

 

 

 

           6        I would note that, as is customary for the

 

 

 

           7  Senate Environment and Public Works Committee

 

 

 

           8  hearings, we work in a bipartisan manner to select

 

 

 

           9  witnesses.  And with ranking member Senator

 

 

 

          10  Barbara Boxer, our next two witnesses are Minority

 

 

 

          11  witnesses.

 

 

 

          12        Mr. Crabtree, please begin your testimony

 

 

 

          13  when you are ready.

 

 

 

          14             MR. CRABTREE:  Thank you,

 

 

 

          15  Senator Fischer, and good morning.

 

 

 

          16        And, yes, I thank the members of the

 

 

 

          17  Committee and the ranking members and the staff

 

 

 

          18  for working with me to -- to invite me here.  But

 

 

 

          19  I thank you for inviting me here, too.  I really

 

 

 

          20  appreciate you bringing this hearing to Nebraska.

 

 

 

          21        My name, as you said, is John Crabtree.  I

 

 

 

          22  live and work in the Northeast Nebraska small town

 

 

 

          23  of Lyons, population 851.  I'm testifying today on

 

 

 

          24  behalf of the Center for Rural Affairs where I

 

 

 

          25  work as Media Director and rural public policy


 

 

                                                               47

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

           1  advocate.

 

 

 

           2        Since its founding in 1973, the Center's

 

 

 

           3  resisted the role of advocating for the interests

 

 

 

           4  of any particular group.  Instead, we've chosen to

 

 

 

           5  advance a set of values, values that we believe

 

 

 

           6  reflect the best of rural and small town America.

 

 

 

           7  And we deeply believe that water quality is one of

 

 

 

           8  those -- that clean water is one of those rural

 

 

 

           9  values.

 

 

 

          10        The need for this rule-making process arises

 

 

 

          11  out of the chaos, confusion and complexity

 

 

 

          12  surrounding Clean Water Act enforcement as a

 

 

 

          13  result of Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and

 

 

 

          14  2006.  The proposed rule focuses on reducing that

 

 

 

          15  confusion, and the Center for Rural Affairs is

 

 

 

          16  encouraged by the process so far.  We encourage

 

 

 

          17  the EPA and the Army Corp of Engineers to continue

 

 

 

          18  moving this rule-making process forward.

 

 

 

          19        It's worth clarifying that the Center is

 

 

 

          20  supportive of the formal rule making process as

 

 

 

          21  it's provided the opportunity to craft a stronger

 

 

 

          22  and more suitable rule through increased citizen

 

 

 

          23  input and engagement.  While no proposed rule is

 

 

 

          24  perfect, we believe the rule-making process will

 

 

 

          25  improve this rule, which is why we provided


 

 

                                                               48

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

           1  detailed and substantive comments to the EPA and

 

 

 

           2  Corps during the public commentary period.  And we

 

 

 

           3  believe that an improved rule can and should

 

 

 

           4  reduce confusion and provide clarity for regulated

 

 

 

           5  entities, including ranchers and farmers, and

 

 

 

           6  ultimately improve the quality of the nation's

 

 

 

           7  waters for the hundreds of us who utilize and

 

 

 

           8  depend upon clean water from our rivers, lakes,

 

 

 

           9  and streams.

 

 

 

          10        Clean water is vital to farming and ranching

 

 

 

          11  and small towns.  Water for livestock, irrigation,

 

 

 

          12  and other purposes is crucial to the day-to-day

 

 

 

          13  operations of farms and ranches.  And farmers and

 

 

 

          14  ranchers are the tip of the spear when it comes to

 

 

 

          15  preserving water quality in America because much

 

 

 

          16  of the surface water of the U.S. falls first on

 

 

 

          17  American farms and ranches.

 

 

 

          18        Streams and wetlands create economic

 

 

 

          19  opportunity in small town America through hunting,

 

 

 

          20  fishing, birding, recreation, tourism, farming,

 

 

 

          21  ranching and small manufacturing.  Farmers,

 

 

 

          22  ranchers and America's small towns depend heavily

 

 

 

          23  on water and our neighbors downstream count on us

 

 

 

          24  to preserve the quality of that water for their

 

 

 

          25  use as well.


 

 

                                                               49

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

           1        Now, despite the assertions that understate

 

 

 

           2  the economic benefit and vastly overstate the cost

 

 

 

           3  of implementing this proposed rule, the true cost

 

 

 

           4  of implementation is estimated to range from

 

 

 

           5  160 to 278 million.  And according to multiple

 

 

 

           6  econometric models, the estimated economic

 

 

 

           7  benefits of implementing the proposed rule range

 

 

 

           8  from 390 to 510 million, or likely double the

 

 

 

           9  costs.

 

 

 

          10        Clean water is crucial here in Nebraska too,

 

 

 

          11  of course.  And vulnerable surface waters are

 

 

 

          12  prevalent in Nebraska.  EPA estimates that

 

 

 

          13  52 percent of Nebraska streams have no other

 

 

 

          14  streams flowing into them, and that 77 percent do

 

 

 

          15  not flow year-round.  Under varying

 

 

 

          16  interpretations of the most recent Supreme Court

 

 

 

          17  decision, these smaller water bodies are among

 

 

 

          18  those for which the extent of Clean Water Act

 

 

 

          19  protections has been questioned.

 

 

 

          20        EPA has also determined that 525,000 people

 

 

 

          21  in Nebraska receive some of their drinking water

 

 

 

          22  from areas containing these smaller streams and

 

 

 

          23  that at least 197 facilities located on such

 

 

 

          24  streams currently have permits under the Clean

 

 

 

          25  Water Act and other federal statutes regulating


 

 

                                                               50

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

           1  pollution discharges.  In addition, the Nebraska

 

 

 

           2  Game and Parks Commission has estimated that

 

 

 

           3  nearly 829,000 acres of wetlands in the state

 

 

 

           4  could be considered so-called isolated waters

 

 

 

           5  particularly vulnerable to losing those

 

 

 

           6  safeguards.

 

 

 

           7        The "Waters of the U.S." rule is the

 

 

 

           8  product -- excuse me, I'm sorry, I lost my place

 

 

 

           9  there.

 

 

 

          10        Chief Justice Roberts has specifically said

 

 

 

          11  that rule-making would most likely be required to

 

 

 

          12  provide necessary clarification of Clean Water Act

 

 

 

          13  jurisdiction.  This has been a rigorous

 

 

 

          14  rule-making process.  EPA and the Army Corps has

 

 

 

          15  conducted extensive outreach to -- as I said,

 

 

 

          16  conducted extensive outreach and received close to

 

 

 

          17  one million public comments on the proposed rule,

 

 

 

          18  including from the Center of Rural Affairs and

 

 

 

          19  thousands of other organizations and hundreds and

 

 

 

          20  thousands of individuals.  An estimated 87 percent

 

 

 

          21  of those comments support the rule.

 

 

 

          22        The "Waters of the U.S." rule goes to great

 

 

 

          23  lengths to ensure that farmers and ranchers

 

 

 

          24  benefit from preserving water quality but are not

 

 

 

          25  overly burdened with the rule's implementation.


 

 

                                                               51

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

           1  All the historical exclusions and exemptions for

 

 

 

           2  farming and ranching are preserved, including

 

 

 

           3  those for normal farming and ranching practices.

 

 

 

           4        And that means that dramatic rhetoric such

 

 

 

           5  as statements that farmers and ranchers will need

 

 

 

           6  a permit to move cattle across a wet field or

 

 

 

           7  stream are absolutely false.  Likewise, public

 

 

 

           8  statements that farm ponds would -- by detractors

 

 

 

           9  is supported by the -- despite public statements

 

 

 

          10  to the contrary, farm ponds would continue to fall

 

 

 

          11  under the longstanding exemption for farm ponds in

 

 

 

          12  the Clean Water Act.

 

 

 

          13        In the final analysis, streams that only

 

 

 

          14  flow seasonally or after rain have been protected

 

 

 

          15  by the Clean Water Act since it was enacted in

 

 

 

          16  1972.  As well they should be, since more than

 

 

 

          17  60 percent of streams nationwide do not flow

 

 

 

          18  year-round, and yet those very same streams

 

 

 

          19  contribute to the drinking water for 117 million

 

 

 

          20  Americans.

 

 

 

          21        Again, I want to thank you, Senator, for

 

 

 

          22  having this hearing and for inviting me here

 

 

 

          23  today.

 

 

 

          24        Just my closing statement, my last comment,

 

 

 

          25  here in the west, we do understand that there's a


 

 

                                                               52

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

           1  lot of truth to the old joke, whiskey is for

 

 

 

           2  drinking and water is for fighting.  Water is

 

 

 

           3  life, for people, crops, livestock, and wildlife

 

 

 

           4  as well as farms, ranches, business and industry.

 

 

 

           5  It's in all our interest to protect this most

 

 

 

           6  vital of our natural resources.

 

 

 

           7        We believe the EPA and Army Corps of

 

 

 

           8  Engineers should continue to listen to concerns,

 

 

 

           9  make substantive improvements to the rule, and

 

 

 

          10  then move forward to finalization.  Thank you.

 

 

 

          11             SENATOR FISCHER:  Thank you,

 

 

 

          12  Mr. Crabtree.

 

 

 

          13        Next, Mr. Wesley Sheets will be a witness

 

 

 

          14  for the Minority as well.  Wes is the Nebraska

 

 

 

          15  National Director and served on the National

 

 

 

          16  Executive Board of the Izaak Walton League of

 

 

 

          17  America.  Mr. Sheets worked for 32 years for the

 

 

 

          18  Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, and I thank

 

 

 

          19  him for his service to Nebraska.

 

 

 

          20        So welcome, Wes.  And your testimony,

 

 

 

          21  please.

 

 

 

          22             MR. SHEETS:  Thank you, Senator Fischer,

 

 

 

          23  and members and staff of the Committee on

 

 

 

          24  Environment and Public Works.  I thank you for the

 

 

 

          25  opportunity to provide comments here today.


 

 

                                                               53

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

           1        My name is Wes Sheets, and I do live here in

 

 

 

           2  Lincoln, Nebraska.  I am testifying on behalf of

 

 

 

           3  the Izaak Walton League of America, which is one

 

 

 

           4  of the nation's oldest recreational and

 

 

 

           5  conservation organizations.  The Izaak Walton

 

 

 

           6  League was formed back in 1922 by a group of

 

 

 

           7  outdoor specialists that were concerned with the

 

 

 

           8  water pollution impacting the health of our fish

 

 

 

           9  and wildlife and other natural resources.  The

 

 

 

          10  founders of our organization understood that clean

 

 

 

          11  water and healthy wetlands are essential to robust

 

 

 

          12  populations of fish, and ducks, and other wildlife

 

 

 

          13  and, in turn -- aha -- and, in turn, to enjoyable

 

 

 

          14  and successful days in the field pursuing them.

 

 

 

          15        I am active in all levels of the

 

 

 

          16  Izaak Walton League, as the treasurer of the local

 

 

 

          17  chapter, as the -- I'm the national director for

 

 

 

          18  Nebraska, and I recently became a member of the

 

 

 

          19  League's executive board.  Today I'm representing

 

 

 

          20  our nearly 2,000 members here in Nebraska and our

 

 

 

          21  other 45,000 members across the nation.  Our

 

 

 

          22  members are all from outdoor enthusiasts who hunt,

 

 

 

          23  fish, and participate in recreational shooting,

 

 

 

          24  boating, and many other outdoor activities.

 

 

 

          25        My working career that Senator Fischer


 

 

                                                               54

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

           1  alluded to, I spent 32 years with the Nebraska

 

 

 

           2  Game and Parks Commission as a fisheries

 

 

 

           3  biologist, aquatic scientist, and finally

 

 

 

           4  finishing the career as the Agency Assistant

 

 

 

           5  Director for fisheries, wildlife and law

 

 

 

           6  enforcement.  I was very privileged back in the

 

 

 

           7  early '70s and mid '70s to participate as an

 

 

 

           8  agency representative as the State of Nebraska

 

 

 

           9  began the establishment of its first water quality

 

 

 

          10  criteria standards under the newly-passed Nebraska

 

 

 

          11  Environmental Protection Act.

 

 

 

          12        It was a treat to see Senator Smith here in

 

 

 

          13  the audience this morning, and I thank him for

 

 

 

          14  helping get that process started.

 

 

 

          15        I do want to start by acknowledging the

 

 

 

          16  interests and concerns of all my colleagues who

 

 

 

          17  are testifying here in opposition to this rule.

 

 

 

          18  The Izaak Walton League has a long history of

 

 

 

          19  working with farmers and ranchers, as well as

 

 

 

          20  other industries, on solutions for the

 

 

 

          21  conservation issues and we pledge to continue to

 

 

 

          22  do so.

 

 

 

          23        League members are members -- are farmers

 

 

 

          24  and ranchers, or they are employed by other

 

 

 

          25  industries represented here.  And many of us come


 

 

                                                               55

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

           1  from rural and agricultural communities.  I myself

 

 

 

           2  grew up on a dairy farm down in our neighboring

 

 

 

           3  state to the south.

 

 

 

           4        We recognize the importance of clean water,

 

 

 

           5  as I hope everyone in this room also does.  Clean

 

 

 

           6  water is fundamentally essential to all life, from

 

 

 

           7  humans, to wildlife, to fish and plants.  Congress

 

 

 

           8  has charged the Environmental Protection Agency

 

 

 

           9  with cleaning up America's waters and with keeping

 

 

 

          10  it clean.  To state the obvious, water flows

 

 

 

          11  downstream and can carry sediment, nutrients, and

 

 

 

          12  other pollutants with it.  There is no line in the

 

 

 

          13  watershed above which water and pollutants do not

 

 

 

          14  flow downstream, at least to my knowledge.  If

 

 

 

          15  landowners and businesses below some arbitrary

 

 

 

          16  line in the watershed of connected waters would be

 

 

 

          17  required to contribute to clean waters, while

 

 

 

          18  those above the arbitrary line could send

 

 

 

          19  sediments, nutrients and other articles downstream

 

 

 

          20  without concern for those impacts, those living

 

 

 

          21  upstream would certainly have an unfair and

 

 

 

          22  unnecessary economic advantage, I would submit.

 

 

 

          23        This highlights the current confusion, and

 

 

 

          24  that is also why so many groups have asked the

 

 

 

          25  agencies for a clarifying ruling.  Science is


 

 

                                                               56

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

           1  irrefutable that watershed waters are considered

 

 

 

           2  in the rules that are connected.  All waters are

 

 

 

           3  important, and that includes the ephemeral waters

 

 

 

           4  that do not flow all year long perhaps.  The rule

 

 

 

           5  is important to Nebraskans for very many reasons,

 

 

 

           6  not the least of which is the maintenance of

 

 

 

           7  fisheries and wildlife habitat, flooding

 

 

 

           8  mitigation, water-based recreation, industrial

 

 

 

           9  need, and many more life needs.  Drinking water

 

 

 

          10  tops the many lists.  And John just recounted some

 

 

 

          11  of the statistics that I wanted to use about how

 

 

 

          12  many folks depend on our stream water supplies for

 

 

 

          13  their drinking water.

 

 

 

          14        Clean water is exactly the type of issue

 

 

 

          15  where a federal rule makes particular sense.  The

 

 

 

          16  vast majority of U.S. waters are part of an

 

 

 

          17  interstate network that drains to one of the

 

 

 

          18  oceans.  What we put into upstream Nebraska waters

 

 

 

          19  affects not only Nebraskans but it does affect the

 

 

 

          20  hunting and fishing opportunities of people all

 

 

 

          21  the way down to Louisiana and into the Gulf of

 

 

 

          22  Mexico.

 

 

 

          23        The muddying and pollution of waters

 

 

 

          24  directly hurts hunting and fishing and all of the

 

 

 

          25  businesses that benefit from them.  Approximately


 

 

                                                               57

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

           1  47 million hunters and anglers in Nebraska

 

 

 

           2  generate over $200 billion in economic activity

 

 

 

           3  each year.  The rule needs to seek to clarify

 

 

 

           4  which waters are covered in this endeavor, and

 

 

 

           5  making the process more efficient and effective,

 

 

 

           6  and it is a better way to address the concerns

 

 

 

           7  about how the Clean Water Act is applied.

 

 

 

           8        Nebraskans care as much about clean water

 

 

 

           9  and their downstream neighbors as anyone else in

 

 

 

          10  the country, and we care just as much about our

 

 

 

          11  traditions of fishing and hunting and depend on

 

 

 

          12  clean water.

 

 

 

          13        Please give the agencies a chance to present

 

 

 

          14  a final rule.

 

 

 

          15        And I thank you for the opportunity,

 

 

 

          16  Senator, for being present here today.

 

 

 

          17             SENATOR FISCHER:  Thank you, Wes.  Good

 

 

 

          18  to see you.

 

 

 

          19        Finally, I'm pleased to welcome our last

 

 

 

          20  witness, Mr. Don Blankenau.  Mr. Blankenau is a

 

 

 

          21  water and natural resources attorney whose

 

 

 

          22  impressive career has enabled him to become a

 

 

 

          23  nationally recognized water policy expert.

 

 

 

          24        Before we hear from Mr. Blankenau, I would

 

 

 

          25  tell you that I'm entering into today's hearing


 

 

                                                               58

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

           1  record comments he filed on behalf of the Nebraska

 

 

 

           2  Association of Resource Districts, Nebraska League

 

 

 

           3  of Municipalities, and the Nebraska Groundwater

 

 

 

           4  Management Coalition.

 

 

 

           5        Mr. Blankenau, thank you for testifying.

 

 

 

           6  You may begin when ready.

 

 

 

           7             MR. BLANKENAU:  Thank you, Senator.

 

 

 

           8        Members of the Committee and staff, we

 

 

 

           9  appreciate the opportunity to testify this

 

 

 

          10  morning.

 

 

 

          11        Again, my name is Don Blankenau, and I am an

 

 

 

          12  attorney based in Lincoln, Nebraska specializing

 

 

 

          13  in water and natural resources law.  My practice

 

 

 

          14  has allowed me to engage in water cases in the

 

 

 

          15  states of Nebraska, Arizona, North Dakota,

 

 

 

          16  South Dakota, Missouri, Georgia, Florida and

 

 

 

          17  Alabama.  I appear here today to offer my thoughts

 

 

 

          18  regarding the proposed rule.  My colleague,

 

 

 

          19  Vanessa Silke, and I have previously filed formal

 

 

 

          20  comments on behalf of this rule regarding

 

 

 

          21  compliance to include the Nebraska Groundwater

 

 

 

          22  Management Coalition, the Nebraska Association of

 

 

 

          23  Resources Districts, the League of Nebraska

 

 

 

          24  Municipalities, and the Tri-Basin Natural

 

 

 

          25  Resources District and the Lyman-Richey


 

 

                                                               59

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

           1  Corporation with the sand and gravel mining

 

 

 

           2  operation.  As you've noted, Senator, those

 

 

 

           3  comments are included in the record today, but

 

 

 

           4  I'll offer some additional comments.

 

 

 

           5        I'd like to begin with a brief anecdote that

 

 

 

           6  I think highlights the philosophical perspective

 

 

 

           7  of the federal proponents of this rule.  Some four

 

 

 

           8  years ago I was at a meeting with the -- with an

 

 

 

           9  employee of the Army Corps of Engineers when we

 

 

 

          10  began a discussion concerning groundwater

 

 

 

          11  management.  To my surprise, this employee stated

 

 

 

          12  that it was time for the federal government to

 

 

 

          13  assert more control over groundwater.  I responded

 

 

 

          14  to that statement with the observation that the

 

 

 

          15  United States Supreme Court in a Nebraska case,

 

 

 

          16  Sporhase versus Nebraska, ex rel. Douglas, in

 

 

 

          17  1982, had determined that groundwater was an

 

 

 

          18  article of interstate commerce within the meaning

 

 

 

          19  of the Constitution.  And I went on to explain

 

 

 

          20  that as an article of interstate commerce, any

 

 

 

          21  increased federal control was the sole purview of

 

 

 

          22  Congress and could not be undertaken by an agency

 

 

 

          23  absent expressed Congressional authorization.  The

 

 

 

          24  Corps employee simply responded, we can do a lot

 

 

 

          25  with our rules, and if Congress won't act, we


 

 

                                                               60

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

           1  will.  The proposed rule I think is the product of

 

 

 

           2  that kind of thinking.

 

 

 

           3        Whether a rule is good policy is one

 

 

 

           4  question.  Whether it's legal is another.  And in

 

 

 

           5  my view, this proposed rule is neither.

 

 

 

           6  Article 1, Section 8, Clause 3 of the Constitution

 

 

 

           7  of the United States contains the "commerce

 

 

 

           8  clause" that authorizes Congress alone to make

 

 

 

           9  laws governing interstate commerce.  Historically,

 

 

 

          10  it was the interstate trafficking of goods and

 

 

 

          11  services on the nation's interstate waters that