Lawmakers and candidates reviewing increased federal authority over U.S. waters

05/27/2015 03:26 PM

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers followed through with the finalization of a rule regulating waterways of the United States, which some in the GOP fear could turn into a land grab.

In Kentucky, U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell and GOP candidates running for statewide office have voiced concerns with the proposed rule and the harm it may pose to farmers in the state.

In mid-May Pure Politics spoke with farmers and the Kentucky Farm Bureau, which said the rule could potentially create costly restrictions that could hamper farming operations.

In late April, McConnell penned an op-ed in the Somerset Commonwealth Journal about how the proposed rule would “wreak havoc on the coal, agriculture, commercial development, real estate, construction, and contracting industries statewide. It would be detrimental to traditional farming practices. And it would trample the private property rights of individual Kentuckians.”

According to The Hill, EPA head Gina McCarthy said those fears are unfounded under the finalized rule announced Wednesday.

“It does not interfere with private property rights or address land use,” McCarthy said. “It does not regulate any ditches unless they function as tributaries. It does not apply to groundwater or shallow subsurface water, copper tile drains or change policy on irrigation or water transfer.”

McCarthy said the rule is intended to clarify which waterways in the nation are subject to the Clean Water Act. In effect, McCarthy said the EPA would only regulate 3 percent more land under the new rule.

Congress is on break at the moment, but McConnell’s communications director Robert Steurer said the six-term incumbent is “still reviewing the rule.”

“He has heard from Kentuckians in the agriculture community, coal industry, and manufacturing that any attempt to expand federal power over waters would be detrimental to the economy by limiting the ability of landowners to make decisions about their property, inviting litigation, threatening jobs and ultimately impacting state and local governments’ abilities to make decisions regarding economic development,” Steurer said in a press release.

The Kentucky Department for Environmental Protection also said they were still looking over the new rule.

“We are reviewing the new regulations at this time, and will have further comment once that review has been completed,” the department told Pure Politics.

The issue of the EPA and the waterways rule has been up for debate in the open seat for agriculture commissioner.

Rep. Ryan Quarles, R-Georgetown, is running against Jean Marie Lawson Spann in the general election, and Quarles has hammered the EPA in his remarks since declaring his candidacy for the post.

“While it will take time to read and digest what is in the EPA’s final rule, make no mistake, the Waters of the US regulations are bad for KY farmers, coal miners, contractors and essentially every other job creating industry in our state,” Quarles said in a statement.

As he digs through the nearly 300 pages of finalized rule, he said the move is one in a series from the Obama administration.

“Sadly, this is just the latest in a series of unprecedented power grabs by Obama’s EPA, an agency with a job killing track record in Kentucky,” he said. “This out of control, out of touch federal over-reach would put bureaucrats on our family farms. Enough is enough. As the next conservative agriculture commissioner, I will push back against and fight Obama’s runaway regulators.”

Lawson Spann, who said she is still reviewing the document, said Wednesday’s finalized rule does not change her position on the EPA or the Corp of Engineers.

“I support efforts to make sure that all citizens have access to safe drinking water,” Lawson Spann said in a statement. “Clean, safe water is one of the most valuable renewable resources that we have on earth.”

“I am totally in favor of the plan followed by the Kentucky Agricultural Development Board to hire the United States Geological Survey Group to do testing on the tributaries as the water comes in to Kentucky, as it flows through Kentucky and then as it is leaving Kentucky to identify exactly who the ‘bad actors’ are,” she said. “These tests have, so far, proven that our Kentucky Farmers are NOT the sources of nitrates and phosphates that are in the water and that fertilizer runoff is not causing problems from our Kentucky Farmers.

“Based on these tests, I will fight for the rights of our Kentucky Farmers and will not hesitate to take whatever action is required to support and protect our Kentucky Family Farms.”

Perhaps taking a shot at her fall opponent, Lawson Spann added that she is “disappointed in some politicians who have chosen to use this issue as a fundraising tool.”

“This is a serious issue and needs to be handled as such,” she said.


Subscribe to email updates.

Subscribe and get the latest political intelligence delivered to your inbox.