Though you hear a lot of wailing and handwringing about Washington gridlock, many voters actually think it’s a good thing. After all, a deadlocked body of elected officials provides an effective barrier to more ill-conceived legislation.

Politicians with agendas to move, however, don’t like such a scenario, and the Obama administration is among those who are decrying such gridlock. So, the President has decided that if Democrats can’t get legislation through Congress, they’ll do an end-around on the legislative process.

This week, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) proposed an expansion of their federal authority over “waters of the United States.” While I risk over-simplifying the measure, the draft proposal (which has a 90-day comment period upon publication is the Federal Register) seeks to extend federal authority to cover essentially all waters in the U.S., regardless of size or continuity of flow. Under the measure, ditches would be classified as tributaries and subject to EPA jurisdiction.

In a news release, Victoria, TX, cattleman Bob McCan, president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, said the proposal would require “cattlemen like me to obtain costly and burdensome permits to take care of everyday chores like moving cattle across a wet pasture or cleaning out a dugout. These permits will stifle economic growth and inhibit future prosperity without a corresponding environmental benefit. This proposed regulation and the burdensome federal permitting scheme will only hinder producers’ ability to undertake necessary tasks and, in turn, result in an exodus of ranchers from the field.”

While there is some leeway granted to projects of the Natural Resource Conservation Service and agriculture in general, essentially any and every activity a rancher undertakes would now touch a “waters of the United States.” Thus, it would fall under the authority of the EPA and the Corps.

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I have a tendency to believe that the absurdity of the measure itself will suffice to stop it. However, it’s not out of the realm of possibility to believe that under the proposed rule a rancher would have to get a permit to do even a mundane task.

This extended definition isn’t the first attempt by EPA to extend its reach, and while ranchers may not be the primary target, they stand to inevitably get caught in the net. In essence, the federal government is taking control over non-navigable waters with this measure. Certainly, this proposal extends well beyond what the courts and Congress intended when they passed the Clean Water Act.

The task of stopping this measure from becoming reality will likely fall on land-user groups such as ranchers because Congress has shown little will to stop the overreaches of presidential and regulatory authority. The comment period will be open for 90 days upon publication in the Federal Register and it is crucial that cattlemen make sure their voices are heard on this issue.

It is rather crude, but I’ve always liked a song by Chris LeDoux that laments a cowboy moving into the city. In the song, the transplanted cowboy waxes poetic about his desire to be able to relieve himself off his back porch, as did in the country. Sadly, however, with the government extending its reach deeper into our everyday lives, that cowboy may need to apply for a permit to do so.

I have to admit that I have a tendency to not get too concerned with proposals like these, as they just seem more laughable than serious on their face. But one thing I have to concede is that despite the absurdity of this proposal, EPA is not kidding.

You can read the EPA/Corps press release here.  

And you can read a draft version of the yet-unpublished proposed rule here.

 

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