Letters From the West

Simpson cosponsors bill to limit EPA, Army Corps jurisdiction over waters

Blacks Creek Reservoir southwest of Boise

Blacks Creek Reservoir southwest of Boise

Idaho Republican Mike Simpson announced Thursday he’s cosponsoring legislation to define “navigable waters.”

Simpson is seeking to limit the jurisdiction of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers over streams and other water bodies that run into the nation’s rivers and lakes.

Simpson, the House Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee chairman, has a lot of power over the Corps of Engineers budget, and he also serves on the subcommittee that oversees the EPA budget.

“I’ve been deeply concerned that the EPA has moved so aggressively to claim jurisdiction over state waters, which is why I’ve cosponsored this bill,” Simpson said in a press release.

The term “navigable waters” has long been the term that defines how much alteration people can do to a water body without regulation. States define navigable waters in different ways, and that has made regulation different for different areas. Recent disputes over the definition of “navigable waters” have brought legislation by Democrats and the Obama Administration to amend the current version of the Clean Water Act to replace the term “navigable waters” with “waters of the United States.”

Critics say this would increase the number of waters subject to federal water quality standards. If all intrastate waters are regulated, the law could be broadly interpreted to include everything within a state, including groundwater, Simpson said in his press release.

“If the EPA has its way, the reach of federal jurisdiction would be so broad that it could significantly restrict landowners’ ability to make decisions about their property and a state and local government’s right to plan for its own development,” Simpson said. “Ponds, ditches, and groundwater should not be regulated by the federal government, and I will continue to fight to protect private property and states’ rights in my role on the House Appropriations Committee.”

Expect Simpson to add language to the next Energy and Water Development appropriations bill to define waters as his bill would.

Rocky Barker is the energy and environment reporter for the Idaho Statesman and has been writing about the West since 1985. He is the author of Scorched Earth How the Fires of Yellowstone Changed America and co-producer of the movie Firestorm: Last Stand at Yellowstone, which was inspired by the book and broadcast on A&E Network. He also co-authored the Flyfisher's Guide to Idaho and the Wingshooter's Guide to Idaho with Ken Retallic. He also was on the Statesman’s team that covered the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news in 2007. The National Wildlife Federation awarded him its Conservation Achievement Award.

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