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Flat on its face by Deb Fischer

August 21, 2014

Flat on its Face
By U.S. Senator Deb Fischer

As I visit communities across the state, countless Nebraskans continue to express to me their concerns with overreach by the federal government. Specifically, many Nebraskans are frustrated by the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) increasingly heavy hand. That’s why there’s so much skepticism about EPA’s latest rule regarding the “waters of the United States” or WOTUS.

On March 25, EPA released its proposed rule redefining “waters of the United States” under the Clean Water Act. If finalized, the rule would represent a massive land grab by the federal government, since few bodies of water would escape the agency’s broad definition of “waters of the United States.”

Under the rule, federal bureaucrats – not state and local authorities – could assert control over water resources. This means the federal government could regulate almost any body of water, from road ditches to farm ponds. Nebraskans own the surface and ground water within our state boundaries. This overreach by the federal government is dramatic in scope and unprecedented in effect.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy recently embarked on a public relations tour to try to alleviate growing national anxiety. She stated, “I have never proposed anything that I thought would be so well-received as this that has fallen totally flat on its face.”

It didn’t fall flat on its face due to EPA’s failure to properly explain it. It’s fallen flat because, when drafting the rule, EPA failed to listen to those impacted by it.

The WOTUS rule would have a disproportionate impact on agriculture – the backbone of Nebraska’s economy. EPA contends that an entire set of exemptions would protect many farmers, but these exemptions do not cover weed control, fertilizer use, or other common farm practices. An August 17 Omaha World-Herald editorial noted, “Responsible environmental projection is sensible. Bureaucratic overreach and costly complications for agriculture and industry are not.”

The rule would also have a dramatic impact on state and local governments. For example, there would be an increase in the number of county-owned ditches under federal jurisdiction, increasing permitting requirements for routine maintenance. The rule would further complicate road construction projects, which are already unnecessarily delayed by red tape.

Understandably, it’s not just farmers and ranchers who are worried. I hear the same concerns voiced by manufacturers and businesses throughout the state. A growing coalition of Nebraskans including home builders, county officials, natural resource districts, manufacturers, contractors, and golf course owners have come together to push back against this rule. It won’t harm a select few; it will touch the lives of all Nebraskans.

So what can we do about it?

I’ve raised my strong concerns directly with EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and Ken Koposis, the president’s nominee to head EPA’s water office. I’m also cosponsoring legislation to stop the rule from taking effect. I’ve written EPA numerous letters and I encourage all Nebraskans to take advantage of the opportunity to offer comments explaining exactly how these rules would impact your lives and your livelihoods.

Public comments are welcome until October 20. Submit your comments, identified by Docket identification (ID) No. EPA-HQ-OW-2011-0880, by one of the following methods:

• Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. Follow the online instructions for submitting comments.
• Email: ow-docket@epa.gov
• Mail: Water Docket, Environmental Protection Agency, Mail Code 2822T, 1200 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20460. Attention: Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OW-2011-0880.

Finally, I was pleased to learn that at long last, Cherry County’s stalled River Road construction project is ready to move forward. Needed repairs and resurfacing on River Road have been a long time coming. No one knows this better than my neighbors in Cherry County, who have been on the front lines battling regulatory red tape for a decade.

As a state senator and Chair of the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee, advancing infrastructure projects like this was one of my top priorities. In 2011, I wrote a bill allowing state officials to “swap funds” with the federal government. This enabled the county government to use cheaper millings for pavement and get this project going. This was a practical solution to address federal regulations without earmarks or spending more money. I’m glad to hear this project is finally moving forward.

Thank you for taking part in the democratic process and I’ll visit with you again next week.

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