Good morning and thank you for being here to discuss the Proposed Waters of the United States Rule. I know some of you had to travel to be here and most of you had to shuffle competing demands on your schedules. I appreciate you all participating in this hearing.
In Washington D.C., we have held hearings with the EPA Administrator, Assistant Secretary of the Army, State government representatives, and stakeholders. This hearing is a continuation of those efforts. It will also give voice to a cross section of Alaskans on this rule and its possible impacts. Beyond those testifying today, the Subcommittee will hear from the Farm Bureau, the Associated General Contractors, the Alaska Miners Association, the Mayor of the North Slope Borough, Senator Click Bishop, and the Citizens’ Advisory Commission on Federal Areas in a hearing in Fairbanks on Wednesday. They will join three-fifths of the States that oppose the proposed rule and more than 300 trade groups and associations from across the country.
Alaska is no stranger to overreaching federal agencies. However, it should be stressed that the proposed Waters of the U.S. rule may be the most massive expansion of federal jurisdiction we have seen to date.
Unlike much of the federal overreach that has impacted Alaska, the tentacles of the Clean Water Act extend far beyond federal lands and would impact the ability for states and private landowners to use their land.
Already, a huge percentage of Alaska falls under federal Clean Water Act jurisdiction. Alaska has 43,000 miles of coastline, and millions of lakes. More than 43 percent of our state’s surface area is composed of wetlands—which accounts for 65 percent of the all the wetlands in the nation.
A whopping 63 percent of the nation’s jurisdictional waters are in Alaska, meaning that those who are building or doing business on or near those waters have to wrangle with the federal government to get permits and approval.
Let me be clear: There is no doubt that many of these lakes and rivers, such as the Yukon, Kuskokwim, Nushagak, Susitna and their tributaries, are jurisdictional under the Clean Water Act. No one is suggesting otherwise. Instead, we’re here to talk about the regulation of waters that Congress never intended to be jurisdictional.
Alaska has some of the cleanest waterways in the world leading to our vibrant, world class fisheries, and award-winning drinking water. Concerns over this rulemaking are not at all aimed at jeopardizing those characteristics that are fundamental to the identity of Alaska.
Instead, my efforts are about clarifying jurisdiction and pushing back on federal agencies that are asserting authority over even more features—such as roadside ditches, culverts, stormwater systems, isolated ponds—and activities on adjacent lands, bypassing Congress and ducking Supreme Court rulings. Regardless of this rule, discharges of pollutants into these features would remain subject to Clean Water Act regulation.
If the rule is finalized, it would mean that many Alaskans would be subject to having to get a permit from the EPA in order to dig ditches in their backyards. It would mean that a farmer might have to get a permit to plow new land. It would mean that harbors, roads, weed and pesticide control, and certainly natural resource development, would fall under a more rigorous federal permitting process, effectively granting the EPA the power to dictate energy, and infrastructure policy in most all of Alaska.
This is not hyperbole. Just ask the Idaho couple who wanted to build a house on just over half an acre that happened to be near a lake. The EPA determined their property to be a wetland, and forced them to stop development and rehabilitate the property to its natural state or face tens of thousands of dollars in fines a day. With this rulemaking, more landowners across the U.S. would be subjected to the same treatment.
Just a couple of weeks ago, the Senate passed, by a strong bipartisan vote, an amendment that would rein in the scope of this rulemaking. While non-binding, this amendment was an important first step as we craft legislation to ensure that the Clean Water Act is focused on maintaining water quality. We sent a strong message that the Clean Water Act should not be transformed into a tool to expand the authority of the EPA and control entirely unrelated activities.
Thank you again for being here this morning and I look forward to hearing the testimony of our witnesses.