Leave it to the Fake News to blow everything out of proportion. Yesterday, the all of the major news outlets ran headlines decrying President Trump's plan to roll back Barack Obama's Waters of the United States rule. But instead of being honest about what that meant, media outlets declared that Trump was canceling the Clean Water Act.
Like so many Fake News stories, this was nothing but a crock.
First, some background information.
The Constitution exists to tell the Branches of Government what they can and cannot do. One of the most abused clauses in the Constitution is the Interstate Commerce Clause. This gives Congress the power to regulate anything as long as it can even remotely be tied to interstate commerce. Gun control regulations, for example, derive their Constitutional power from this provision. As do many of the EPA's environmental regulations.
At the tip of that list is the Clean Water Act. This legislation, passed in 1972, gives the EPA the power to regulate pollutants in America's navigable waterways. That clarification is important.
The power behind the Clean Water Act is that America's waterways are used for interstate commerce. Therefore, in order for a waterway to fall under this Act's purview, it has to be navigable.
Traditionally, the benchmark has been the Native American dug-out canoe. Since it displaces barely any water, it is generally understood as the watercraft capable of traversing the shallowest waters.
Therefore, any lake, river, stream, or marshland that is deep enough for a log to float is, theoretically, navigable.
Conservatives, generally, were okay with this. Since we tend to be the ones hunting and fishing in the wilderness, we want it to be clean and pristine. The Clean Water Act exists to prohibit companies from just dumping waste into our waterways. It was a response to the devastating Cuyahoga River Fire back in 1969.
Over the years, the EPA has attempted to expand these regulations to include more and more waterways. For example, while the Mississippi is obviously navigable, many of its tributaries (especially the ones far up-river) are not. The EPA determined that if a waterway is navigable, then its tributaries are as well even if they are not deep enough to serve as a transportation route.
But even that wasn't enough. The EPA expanded its regulation to include pollutants that are not directly introduced to waterways, but could theoretically find their way into surface waters anyway.
What does that mean? Well, according to the EPA's old interpretation, a drainage ditch (similar to the one shown above) would qualify as a navigable waterway.
Anyone with a pair of eyes can see that is not a navigable waterway. The only boat that can travel down that is a newspaper sailboat...
But the EPA argued that fertilizer runoff can find its way into the water table and, eventually, reach the Waters of the United States. The same goes for ponds that are dug on ranches to store water for livestock.
Barack Obama's Environmental Protection Agency claimed the authority to fine farmers and ranchers who dig drainage ditches and ponds without a Federal permit. Government bureaucrats went through old topographical maps and started fining farmers for obstructing ancient streams. Even if water hasn't flowed there for decades, the EPA still classified dried up, ancient streams as "navigable waterways." If someone dug out a hole and it filled with water, that was all of a sudden classified as a part of a "navigable waterway."
Any objective observer can see that these things are not navigable waterways, and therefore shouldn't fall under the Clean Water Act. Democrats, however, believe in an ends-justify-the-means mentality. They believe that the goal is worthwhile, so it doesn't matter how we get there. Even if the overbearing regulations drive ranchers and farmers to bankruptcy...
Now back to yesterday. The Trump Administration repealed Obama's Waters of the United States Rule and restored the traditional definition of "navigable waterways." The EPA will now only be able to enforce the Clean Water Act as it was written, focusing on navigable waterways and their natural tributaries.
The Left, however, is freaking out.
The amazing thing is that Conservatives agree with the Left on this. If a company is polluting and endangering ground water sources or introducing chemicals and fertilizers into waterways, they should be regulated. But Congress has to pass a new law about it. The government simply does not have the power to regulate puddles as navigable waterways.
And that is where the disconnect is. Liberals believe that the ends justify the means. Conservatives see this as a gross illegal expansion of government powers. But instead of actually talking through all this, the Left is accusing Conservatives of wanting to pollute the earth. Unless you are willing to let Leftists do whatever they want, then you are an enemy to the environment.
You would expect this kind of argument from a kindergartener -- give me what I want, or else -- not elected Members of Congress and the Media...
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