Nebraskans got to voice their opinions about a proposal to clarify the Clean Water Act called Waters of the United States during a United States field hearing held on the East Campus of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Attorney Don Blankenau of the League of Nebraska Municipalities claimed Waters of the US doesn’t clarify the Clean Water Act, but simply expands the EPA’s power beyond the limits set by Congress.
“Frankly, my testimony in opposition to this rule here today is against my personal interest, because as a lawyer I can guarantee you I will make money if this rule passes,” Blankenau told Sen. Deb Fischer who presided at the two-hour hearing.
Fischer brought the hearing of the Environment and Public Works Committee to Nebraska to hear about the impact the proposed Waters of the United States rule will have on state and local governments as well as farmers and business owners.
Testimony began with Assistant Attorney General Justin Levene speculating that if the rule is enacted, federal officials would be granted jurisdiction over bodies of water once left to the states to regulate or not regulated at all since they don’t flow year-round. Lavene, chief of the Agriculture Environment and Natural Resources Bureau in the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office, asserted the state of Nebraska has carried out provisions of the Clean Water Act for 40 years through the Department of Environmental Quality. Lavene stated the Waters of the United States rule would encroach on state authority.
Chairwoman Mary Ann Borgeson of the Douglas County Board of Commissioners worried about a lack of sufficient definitions and the use of terminologies in the rule. She asserted the Clean Water Act has already caused big delays in public works projects and greatly increased their costs and specualted the rule would only make matters worse.
Nebraska Cattlemen President-elect Barb Cooksley said she understands the rules of the game as administered by the state and operates her ranch near Anselmo according to those rules. She said the new rules as proposed by the federal government seem vague and could well allow federal officials to impose restrictions on ponds not always full and streams that don’t always flow.
Such rhetoric often arises from opponents of the rule and they are off base, according to John Crabtree with the Center for Rural Affairs, who claimed that all the historical exclusions and exemptions contained in the Clean Water Act are preserved in the Waters of the United States rule. Crabtree contended the rule is needed to clarify what he called the chaos and confusion from U.S. Supreme Court rulings.
Wes Sheets with the Izaak Walton League of America who once worked as a biologist for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, urged opponents to cooperate with the EPA in drafting a rule that would address their concerns.
“Clean water is exactly the type of issue where a federal rule makes particular sense,” according to Sheets.
Sen. Fischer wasn’t persuaded by those supporting the rule.
“It is clear that imposing additional rules and permitting requirements on farmers, small businesses, and local governments will only create uncertainty, cause litigation and liability exposure and drive up the time and cost of important projects,” Fischer stated.
AUDIO: Brent Martin reports [:55]