DARKE COUNTY – Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine filed a lawsuit June 29 against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. EPA over the federal government’s controversial new regulations defining “waters of the United States,” which were published that morning in the Federal Register. DeWine, who was joined in the lawsuit by Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, filed the lawsuit in federal district court in Columbus.
“This rule clearly violates both the language and the spirit of the Clean Water Act, which recognizes the rights of states to serve as trustees of their natural resources,” said Attorney General DeWine. “This is yet another example of the Obama administration overreaching its authority and unilaterally attempting to concentrate power in the hands of federal bureaucrats.”
On June 16, the Darke County Chamber of Commerce joined 382 businesses, organizations, associations and chambers of commerce, representing nearly every state, in signing a letter to all Members of the United States Senate in strong support of S. 1140, the Federal Water Quality Protection Act.
“The Chamber Board of Directors voted to sign on to the United States Senate letter because of the significant impact of this legislation, particularly on agri-business,” said Darke County Chamber President Sharon Deschambeau.
According to the Attorney General, this legislation would allow for revisions to the Environmental Protection Agency’s and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ proposed ruling on the definition of “Waters of the United States” (WOTUS).
Pursuant to the Clean Water Act, the federal government has regulatory control over “navigable waters,” which are defined as “waters of the United States, including territorial seas.” However, new rules promulgated by the U.S. Corps and U.S. EPA attempt to define “waters of the United States” to include almost every conceivable water tributary in the country and even adjacent dry land and dry creek beds, with little limit on federal jurisdiction. The new regulations have few exceptions, notably for trivial water bodies such as “puddles” and certain swimming pools.
There is concern the overly-broad definition of “waters of the United States” could be used by the federal government to penalize landowners improperly. For example, the definition could be used to penalize a homeowner who remedies standing water on their property if it is within 1,500 feet of even a normally dry stream bed.
This proposed rule would make routine operations at facilities subject to federal permitting and lengthy environmental reviews for the first time. The proposed “waters of the United States” (WOTUS) rule will hit existing facilities/operations and future facilities/operations by expanding EPA’s authority to place restrictions on land use and make many more activities subject to a Clean Water Act permit.
“WOTUS is a big issue for agriculture,” stated Darke County Chamber Chairman Matt Aultman. “A group from Ohio have been active in this issue and working with lawmakers in Washington to push to get action for withdrawal. We have been working with Environmental Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Bob Gibbs and his staff to provide information to keep this movement going.”
“The WOTUS rule would amend the Clean Water Act to allow EPA regulation over ditches as tributaries, snow and rain runoff from equipment and storage areas, ponds and impoundments, and any area in which any water may drain into any other water, ” Aultman continued. “That means if you have a pond in your backyard it falls under their jurisdiction. So it will affect more than just the agriculture sector, anyone who has a body of water on their property, for example a stream or a water trap on a golf course. Farm Bureau has been active on this topic, as well as, the US Chamber.”
Attorney General DeWine is asking the court to vacate the rule, enjoin the defendants from seeking to claim jurisdiction under the rule, and remand the matter so the agencies can propose new rules which are consistent with the U.S. Constitution and the Clean Water Act.