Water war: Virginia Senators blast EPA ‘end-run’ rule

Water war: Virginia Senators blast EPA  ‘end-run’ rule

Virginia’s 21 Republican state senators say a “Waters of the United States” rule targets farmers and could cost the state and landowners untold millions of dollars.

Sen. Ben Chafin called the proposed regulation by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency “an attempted end-run around Congress and two Supreme Court rulings.”

“[It] would significantly expand the scope of ‘navigable waters’ subject to the Clean Water Act jurisdiction by regulating small and remote waters,” the senators stated in a letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy.

“By increasing federal jurisdiction over lands, the rule would establish federal power to regulate farming and other land uses,” wrote Chafin, an attorney and farmer who sits on the state Senate’s Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources Committee.

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No Democratic senators signed the letter. State Sen. Chap Petersen’s office said the Democrat had “never heard” from Republicans about the issue.

Speaking to Virginia ranchers and farmers, Chafin said, “Ditches and small ponds on your farm would be considered waters that are under the nearly unlimited jurisdiction of the EPA.”

“Our economy is already struggling due to the EPA’s regulations on coal and will further be hurt by the proposed ‘Waters of the United States’ rule,” he said.

Neither the EPA nor the state Department of Environmental Quality provided cost estimates of the new regulations. Chafin said only:

If this proposed rule is adopted, farmers, ranchers and other landowners across the country will face a tremendous new roadblock to the enjoyment of their land and ordinary land-use activities.

Bryant Osborn, a farmer, pointed to California — the nation’s largest agricultural state — as a cautionary example of what happens to water resources under government control.

“In the last five years, California, in conjunction with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, has flushed nearly a trillion gallons of State Water Project water into the ocean in support of a bait fish called the Delta Smelt,” Osborn told Watchdog.org, adding:

When California started running out of water, they cut off the water to the Central Valley, and decimated their $45 billion agriculture industry. Central Valley farmers have left an estimated half-million acres of America’s richest farmland fallow because of the lack of water, which is boosting the prices of food nationwide.

If the EPA gets its way, California’s water insanity is going to go nationwide.

EPA spokesman Robert Daguillard said:

One in three Americans — 117 million of us — get our drinking water from streams not currently protected by the Clean Water Act. That’s why EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers proposed the rule — so we can protect the 60 percent of streams and millions of acres of wetlands that are currently vulnerable to pollution and destruction.

But Daguillard asserted the regulation “will not give EPA greater power over water on farms and ranches, nor will it lead to federal agencies asserting regulatory authority over land use.”

“Normal farming practices, including planting, plowing and harvesting, have always been exempt from Clean Water Act regulations, and our rule won’t change that,” he said.

Virginia DEQ spokeswoman Ann Regn said the state agency has taken no position on the EPA proposal.

“We believe Virginia laws are protective and that the national proposal won’t affect things,” Regn said. Aside from offering “a few technical comments,” Regn said DEQ has not been asked by Gov. Terry McAuliffe to weigh in.

Read more by Kenric Ward at Watchdog.com.

Kenric Ward

Kenric Ward

Kenric Ward is a national correspondent and writes for the Texas Bureau of Watchdog.org. Formerly a reporter and editor at two Pulitzer Prize-winning newspapers, Kenric has won dozens of state and national news awards for investigative articles. His most recent book is “Saints in Babylon: Mormons and Las Vegas.”


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