Smoky Mountain Stream_smConservatives for Responsible Stewardship (CRS) has been working to educate the public–especially fellow conservatives–about the EPA’s new Clean Water Rule. Check out our recent op-ed in the Knoxville News-Sentinel: Proposed Clean Water Rule Follows Baker’s Vision of Stewardship.

CRS has also been carrying our message to the airwaves with interviews on drive-time radio in Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas. Here are three clips from CRS President David Jenkins’ recent interview on WECO in Wartburg, Tennessee.

WECO Clip 1, WECO Clip 2, WECO Clip 3


Back in May the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers released a rulemaking to clarify which of our nation’s waters are covered under the Clean Water Act (CWA). This was made necessary by a split U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2006 that muddied aspects of the old interpretation. The Court was split three ways and Justice Kennedy’s middle opinion–which said that for non-navigable water to be covered under the law they must affect the chemical, physical, or biological integrity of navigable waters–became the prevailing guidance for EPA and the Corps in crafting the new Clean Water Rule.  As a result, this new rule is more narrow and includes fewer waters than EPA’s guidance did prior to 2006.

Still, some special interests, such as American Farm Bureau and land developers, are vigorously opposing the new rule in hopes of further narrowing the scope of the CWA to exclude smaller streams and many of our remaining wetlands. They are misrepresenting the Clean Water Rule as an unprecedented expansion of the CWA and ridiculously claiming it even regulates mud puddles. Republican elected officials, who are conditioned to oppose most anything proposed by the Obama Administration,  are buying into this special interest rhetoric and are trying to legislatively and legally derail the rule. This includes Republican Attorneys General  from twenty eight states, who have all joined a lawsuit to block it.

Had these overzealous office holders dug a little deeper into the issue, they would have discovered that the new Rule accurately restores the intent of Republicans who helped craft and pass the CWA. The authors of the CWA redefined the term “navigable waters” for purposes of the Act to mean “waters of the United States.” One of the CWA’s Republican authors was Howard Baker, a longtime Tennessee Senator and President Reagan’s Chief of Staff. Baker made it clear on numerous occasions that the Clean Water Act was intended to cover all waters of the United States, including small streams and wetlands. This broad scope interpretation was reinforced in 1977 when Baker and others succeeded in defeating an amendment offered by Democrat Senator Lloyd Bentsen (TX) that would have limited the CWA primarily to larger water bodies.

In opposing the Bentsen Amendment, Baker explained:

“It is important to understand that toxic substances threaten the aquatic environment when discharged into small streams or into major waterways. Similarly, pollutants are available to degrade water and attendant biota when discharged in marshes and swamps….Continuation of the comprehensive coverage of this program is essential for the protection of the aquatic environment. The once seemingly separable types of aquatic systems are, we now know, interrelated and interdependent. We cannot expect to preserve the remaining qualities of our water resources without providing appropriate protection for the entire resource.”

Baker and the other authors of the CWA fully understood that because smaller water features flow into bigger ones, the law must cover the entire watershed to be effective. This sound thinking is not only critical to protect the biological integrity of our water resources, but it also protects taxpayer wallets and property rights.

Wetlands, for example, have a unique ability to trap, store, filter and slowly release storm water. As such, they reduce the frequency and severity of flooding, help maintain water quality, replenish underground aquifers, and protect against drought. When wetlands are lost to development it inevitably leads to costly infrastructure projects—such as dams, levees, diversion channels, storm sewers, and sewage treatment plant upgrades—designed to perform the same services that the wetlands had performed for free. How costly is such infrastructure? Just maintaining our existing flood control, wastewater and drinking water infrastructure is estimated to cost taxpayers roughly $2 trillion over the next twenty years.

As for property rights, when someone upstream pollutes the water or irresponsibly paves over wetlands it will inevitably impact downstream property owners. These impacts range from fouling the water to increased flooding risk. Hardening watersheds can also result in lower instream flows during times of drought, which can deny farmers the ability to irrigate crops. President Reagan called this “the destructive trespass of pollution.”

The genuinely conservative position is to support a broad scope Clean Water Act that protects water resources for everyone and reduces our need for costly new infrastructure.

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