Last year, Senate Democrats sought to pass the Clean Water Restoration Act that would have expanded the federal government’s ability to regulate activities on “navigable waters,” as required under the Clean Water Act, to any activity on or in all waters in the U.S., including ponds, streams, and ditches.
The controversial bill, staunchly opposed by most Republicans for its sweeping reach of federal authority—and “drastic negative effects” on the economy—never made it beyond the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
But now, in the final days of the lame-duck session, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is considering the Clean Water Restoration Act as part of the massive omnibus lands and water package he will likely try to ram through Congress.
If it passes, the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers will be given unlimited control to regulate any wet areas in the United States, preempting states and local governments.
As members of the Senate and House Western Caucuses wrote Sen. Reid and Rep. Pelosi last year:
We strongly object to any attempt to move this legislation, either as a stand alone bill or as an attachment to a bill… [W]e cannot imagine any bill so important that we could support it with the Clean Water Restoration Act attached.
In the West, few things have been more important in our states’ history than water. In the areas we represent, where the frontier spirit of smaller government and individual liberty are still sacred traditions, there is overwhelming objection to this bill.
This bill attempts to trump state’s rights and pre-empts state and local governments from making local land and water use decisions.
This bill will also build an even more expensive, cumbersome bureaucracy which will increase delays in securing permits and will slow or stop vital economic activities all across the country. Commercial and residential real estate development, agriculture, electric transmission, transportation and ming will all be effected. Thousands of jobs will be lost.
National Center for Public Policy Research’s former environmental director Peyton Knight also wrote about the bill’s impact:
Though Representative Oberstar claims the Clean Water Restoration Act would simply restore the original intent of the Clean Water Act, the reality is much different. By expanding the federal government’s regulatory reach beyond “navigable” waters to all “waters of the United States” - including every prairie pothole, isolated pond, wetland and intermittent stream under congressional authority - Oberstar’s bill would truly enter uncharted territory. Moreover, by inviting judicial review of all “activities affecting these waters,” the bill would open the door to a dizzying array of lawsuits that could challenge virtually any activity, no matter how benign, that takes place in or near any so-called “waters of the United States.”
Just a few days ago, the prevailing opinion was that Sen. Reid did not have the votes in the Senate to pass the bloated omnibus lands and water bundle. Now that view is changing, and there is speculation that he may have support to overcome a filibuster, including from John Ensign (Nevada) and from non-returning Republican Sam Brownback (Kansas), though neither Senators are confirming.
That would be a truly tragic close to the year 2010 and to the American people who let it be known on Election Day their desire to curb Washington’s reach, not extend it. Yet Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid sees the lame-duck session as an opportunity to work in secret and rush through unpopular legislation that had no chance of passing before lame duck when lawmakers were accountable for their votes.