WASHINGTON (CN) — Senate Republicans lambasted the previous administration’s water regulations as a federal power grab Wednesday in a hearing on the new policy rolled out by President Donald Trump.
The Environmental Protection Agency revised the rule known as Waters of the United States in December, following Trump’s 2017 executive order aimed at minimizing regulations and promoting economic growth. The order limited the definition of “waters of the United States” to include only navigable waters, leaving smaller waterways at risk of contamination from pollutants and hazardous materials.
As the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Parks met to consider the revisions today, Republicans emphasized how the 2015 regulations passed under President Obama impacted the agriculture sector.
“Ranchers and farmers across the country were told that their irrigation ditches their ponds and puddles were navigable waters and could be regulated by the federal government,” said Chairman John Barasso, a Wyoming Republican.
With Barasso noting that violations of the 2015 carries multimillion-dollar fines for landowners, Republicans said farmers and landowners are in the dark about how to comply.
They also insisted that the job of regulating should go to states, not the EPA.
“There is this assumption that you liberals generally have that the states are not competent to get this done, and they have to rely on the wisdom of the federal government to get this done,” Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma said.
North Dakota Department of Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring shared Inhofe’s frustration, saying that state governments must work within the federal regulations set by the Clean Water Act, the primary federal law regulating water pollution.
But Democratic Senator Thomas Carper said the law does not ensure the safety of waters left unprotected under the Trump administration’s revised policy.
“It is important for us to keep in mind the many states that can’t regulate waters more stringently than the EPA does,” said Carper, who represents Delaware.
Senator Chris Hollen, a Democrat from Maryland, similarly voiced concern that two-thirds of state laws actually prohibit establishing protection beyond the Clean Water Act regulations.
Todd Fornstrom, president of the Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation, said regulation clarity is the top concern, followed by “knowing who is going to enforce those rules.”
“We prefer the local,” Fornstrom added, “but we would like to know by looking at it what it.”
Richard Elías, from the Pima County Board of Supervisors in Arizona, said local enforcement is not always enough to protect communities from the danger of pollutants.
Strongly encouraging Congress to oppose implementing the new water regulations, Elías said the new rule would adversely affect the health and welfare of Arizonans by removing regulations on intermediate streams, which flow a few weeks or months out of the year, or ephemeral streams, which flow only in the hours following rainfall.
“It eliminates protection for virtually all of our water sources needlessly jeopardizing our drinking water, or watersheds or agricultural producers and numerous tribal nations,” Elías said.
Senator Hollen also noted that there is little incentive for states to tighten their policies if the major risk is to states downstream.
Supporting the idea that downstream flow of pollutants is an urgent issue for Congress, Elias noted that runoff from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base seeped into storm drains in January.
The toxins ended up 30 miles away polluting local communities in Pima county, Elias said.
“Protecting small ditches, protecting arroyos, protecting small tributaries is critical for us too,” Elias said. “We don’t know where those [toxic discharge] PFAs are going to end up.”