WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) recently delivered a speech on the Senate floor slamming the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule, which could put privately-owned land containing ponds, puddles, and dry ditches under federal regulation. Sen. Fischer called the rule a “needless power grab” and an expansion of federal power over a state resource.
Sen. Fischer joined U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) in introducing legislation to overturn the rule earlier this year. That legislation passed the Senate today 53-43 with Sen. Fischer’s support.
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Following is a transcript of Senator Fischer’s remarks as prepared for delivery:
Almost 20 years ago, a family in Idaho purchased a lot in a residential area near Priest Lake. They were looking to build a home.
They obtained county building permits and started placing sand and gravel on their property to get it ready for the build.
But shortly after the family began preparing their lot, the Environmental Protection Agency told them to stop. There was water on their building plot with no surface water connection to any body of water, but because of its proximity to Priest Lake, the EPA said that placing sand and gravel on the property violated the Clean Water Act.
The Clean Water Act prohibits the discharge of pollutants — such as the rocks and sand used to prepare a building plot — into “navigable waters.”
Navigable waters are ambiguously defined by the Clean Water Act as “waters of the United States” — more commonly known as WOTUS.
Normally, navigable waters are defined as waters that are deep, wide, and calm enough for boats or ships to go across. The surface water on the Idaho family’s lot certainly doesn’t fit that bill.
Well, the Idaho family tried to challenge the EPA. They sought a hearing, but the EPA chose not to grant them one, and instead continued to assert Clean Water Act jurisdiction over their land.
So, Michael and Chantell Sackett sued. They’ve been to the Supreme Court once, and they are back this year. They still haven’t been able to build on the property they first acquired in 2004.
The Sackett v. EPA Supreme Court case centers on interpretation of the Clean Water Act. What counts as a water of the United States?
In 2015, the Obama Administration published an unprecedented expansion of the definition of WOTUS, giving the federal government jurisdiction over a state resource — that is, Nebraska’s water. It doesn’t belong to the federal government.
I fought former President Obama’s WOTUS rule since my first term in the Senate. The rule was the federal government at its worst — it encroached on families, communities, and businesses by its brazen intrusion into the precious water resource of my home state of Nebraska and all the rest of our states.
The Trump Administration rescinded Obama’s WOTUS rule — but when President Biden took office, he reversed that trajectory. The president issued a new rule allowing EPA officials in Washington, D.C. to make case-by-case determinations of what should be considered a water of the U.S.
Privately owned land containing ponds, puddles, and even dry ditches can now be regulated by the federal government. This needless power grab only places more people under restrictive regulations and fines.
The federal government shouldn’t have the power to regulate Nebraska’s water — Nebraskans should.
Nebraska has a special system of natural resource districts that empowers locally-elected community members to manage water resources based on river basin boundaries. Regular people living their lives at home know better than D.C. bureaucrats how to use and manage their states’ natural resources.
That’s why I’ve partnered with my colleague Senator Capito in introducing legislation to overturn President Biden’s WOTUS rule.
The Biden administration is determined to impose an overly restrictive rule right now before the Supreme Court has an opportunity to decide the Sackett case. We can’t let that happen.
In the past, I’ve cosponsored a bill targeting the flawed science used by the EPA to expand its definition of WOTUS. I’ve also helped introduce legislation that would require presidential administrations to consult states and stakeholders before imposing regulations on state-owned water resources.
This is essential. States understand the complex geological and hydrological factors affecting their own water resources. There’s no way the federal government can take all of that into account with its one-size-fits-all regulations.
I dealt with these issues during my time in the Nebraska legislature, and I know there are not benefits when the federal government tries to take control of a state resource through onerous regulations.
Leave water management to the experts — the states that know their own water. The federal government needs to stay out of issues that are handled much better under state jurisdiction.
WOTUS is not the issue everyone wants to talk about. But it’s important to regular Americans in Nebraska, Idaho, and many other states — and those Americans are who we’re here to represent.
WOTUS has real, tangible impact on American lives — so let’s come together and solve the problems created by this administration’s rash and reckless regulating.
Thank you. I yield the floor.
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