The seemingly endless stream of Obama administration rules to circumvent Congress and states is driving people away from finding practical solutions to problems and into courtrooms filled with highly-paid attorneys waging a “paperwork” war.
Case in point: EPA and Army Corps issued long-awaited rules in March 2014 seeking to clarify Clean Water Act regulatory jurisdiction over additional bodies of water, particularly those that are seasonal or dependent on rain and wetlands near streams.
Opponents of the rules, which range from agriculture to small business, argue they amount to a federal government intrusion into states’ rights — a power grab.
When Congress recently passed legislation nullifying the rules, President Obama vowed to veto it. Unfortunately, the debate drifted into a partisan battle with Democrats siding with the president. Not having enough votes to override a veto, the issue now is headed back to federal court.
On one side is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, American Farm Bureau, National Association of Manufacturers and more than 30 state business and agriculture organizations challenging the constitutionality of “the EPA and Corps overreach.” On the other is the federal government and environmental activists who want more central government control over water.
The beneficiary of all this courthouse wrangling is the attorneys collecting millions in legal fees.
Most people are looking for practical solutions which protect our streams, aquifers and lakes and allows farmers, ranchers, homeowners and business to operate.
The act is needed
Clearly, the Clean Water Act passed in 1972 was a much-needed set of standards necessary to enhance water quality. The intent was for EPA to work with the states to administer it, not supersede their authority.
There is no doubt that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers sets the rules over navigable waters — waters like the Columbia River where barges and ships take products to and from ports.
Even though the major waterways are already under federal protection, the rub comes because the EPA and the Corps want to issue permits and restrict access to an additional 3 percent of waters traditionally permitted by states.
Things like stock ponds, intermittent streams which dry up in the summer, and even critics say the rules, carried to the extreme, would cover puddles in driveways and on playgrounds.
Work it out
Unfortunately, the courts may take years to sort through all this. There has to be a better way grounded in practical, common sense solutions.
Here is an example.
In the 1960s our family camped along the shores of high mountain lakes in southwestern Montana. To reach those lakes there was a rough dirt road through a rancher’s field. During the spring, the creek would flood the land and parts of the road. Later in the summer, the rancher would divert water from the creek to flood irrigate his pasture and the road flooded again. The water returning to the creek was muddy.
So the practical solution was to install large sprinklers which spread water more widely over the pasture, fence off parts of the creek so cattle and horses could not lay in flowing water, and elevate the road and install culverts.
It made common sense for the rancher to work with sportsman and the state’s local fish and wildlife, agriculture and environmental quality agents to solve water quality problems.
Today, the creek, which feeds a nationally known “blue ribbon” trout stream, carries much less sediment and the water quality vastly is improved.
Wouldn’t it be better for the president to end his power grabs for which he is establishing his legacy and encourage cooperation? Each state is different and in this case, a federal rule applying to all 50 is just fertile ground for more litigation.
Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, Washington state’s oldest and largest business organization, and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at theBrunells@msn.com.