Expanding federal regulatory creep needs stopped – July 5, 2011

We in the West, particularly the public lands areas, have always been aware that we are on the cutting edge of efforts to try out the latest and greatest in central planning from that bastion of control, Washington, D.C.  These efforts are led by some in the federal government and others outside of federal government who would like to turn the West into a giant park.

Restrictions on utilization of areas through legislation or regulation such as endangered species, wilderness or any other of the enumerable designations can be accomplished with a little ingenuity from an outside, non-governmental organization or a sympathetic government employee. Food producers are well aware of how difficult it becomes to watch the road ahead while keeping an eye out for something creeping up from behind.

The most recent effort by Washington, D.C. that caught everyone’s eye in the West was a secretarial order from the Secretary of the Interior to designate areas of the West as “wildlands.”  Most federal lands users understood what the impacts could have been if this effort had moved forward.

While some of these issues were happening in our backyard, another agency, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), was busy trying to expand their role in regulating water in the Eastern U.S.  For once this wasn’t a West focused effort,; however the agency’s overreach will hit us if it isn’t stopped.  Most small businesses, including agricultural producers, have always cast a wary eye towards EPA.  After all, the agency is in charge of air and water and we in the West have always understood the importance of water.

Under a new administration with a firm philosophy of “if a little government is good than a lot must be better,” the Agency began looking at ways to expand their already considerable authority even more.  To do this they cast their eyes towards the Chesapeake Bay and decided that an interpretation of the Clean Water Act which had been utilized by the Agency since 1972 was wrong and they could usurp powers which states and local governments had exercised. 

Congress, when they passed the Clean Water Act in 1972, established two types of pollutant control mechanisms.  For point sources such as factories or industries, they required those industries to obtain a permit to discharge, which required pollution control techniques that helped establish the “fishable and swimmable” goal engendered by the Act.  For diffuse sources, Congress treated them as non-point sources which allowed states to regulate them in a fashion which took into account the many unknowns such sources created as well as the economic impacts.

Now however, with the Chesapeake Bay, the EPA has decided they should step in with mandated regulations and override state and local efforts all while ignoring the economic impacts.   You may ask just how much those costs could be?  Most citizens, when buying anything would at least want to know a ballpark figure of the cost, but EPA declined to analyze costs.  However, several of the impacted states have and the implementation costs will be billions of dollars.  For example, the state of Maryland estimated that its implementation costs from 2011 to 2017 could be as high as $10 billion.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, the executive order that led to the Chesapeake Bay effort specifically called for strategies that could be replicated in other bodies of water.  Given that statement as well as numerous other disconcerting aspects it’s no wonder the American Farm Bureau Federation and several other organizations have been forced to spend money challenging this overreach of federal authority.  Let’s hope this ever expanding regulatory creep can be stopped.

To learn more about the EPA’s water take-over, visit our website at www.wyfb.org for a fact sheet.

By Ken Hamilton, Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation Executive Vice President

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