By now it should be clear to all that the Obama administration's regulators at the EPA are no friends to Kentucky. They've already been waging a war on coal for years here, and now comes the latest salvo in the Environmental Protection Agency's assault: a rule known as Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) that would classify nearly all wetlands, including small ponds and ditches, as "navigable" waters and thus subject to interference from Washington.
If this rule is allowed to take effect, it would wreak havoc on the coal, agriculture, commercial development, real estate, construction and contracting industries statewide. It would hurt traditional farming practices. And it would trample upon many Kentuckians' private property rights.
Although the EPA claims the mandate of the Clean Water Act in promulgating this rule, it is really about controlling and putting limits on private land use. The rule would extend to any small pond or ditch that holds water, infiltrates groundwater or is used by animals, birds, or insects. In short, it is a colossal act of government overreach.
The rule will force landowners, homebuilders, farmers, mine operators, manufacturers, utility providers, state and local governments and a host of other property owners to seek permits from Washington bureaucrats before they can begin a wide range of development projects or activities, even activities as simple as building fences or spraying and pulling weeds.
Forcing more areas not previously regulated to go through the permitting process just because ditches or streams are present will only discourage individual property and business owners from expanding their businesses. Many property owners across a variety of industries, faced with the uncertainty of EPA approval, will choose to forego new projects altogether, slowing down our economy even more at a moment when the nation is still struggling through a recovery.
Not only will this regulation cause economic uncertainty, but the EPA's own estimates show that the expensive, time-consuming permitting process will cost Americans between $158 million and $465 million a year. This is money that could be used to grow businesses and create much-needed jobs.
A cautionary tale can be found in the story of Andy Johnson, a farmer who built a stock pond on his eight-acre Wyoming farm. He spent hours building it and filling it with fish, ducks and geese. Now the EPA is claiming that he violated the Clean Water Act by building the pond without a permit and is threatening to fine him $75,000 — a day.
Outrageous assaults like these cannot be allowed to continue. The Kentucky Farm Bureau agrees, saying their review of the ruling is that Washington "took an already bad rule and made it worse" and that "as a result of the new WOTUS rule, [Kentucky] farmers only have greater uncertainty about how they can work their land, face more overall regulation and will have to combat potentially frivolous litigation."
It's time to stop Washington bureaucrats from telling us how to use our properties for no other reason than that they think they can. That's why we are leading the fight against these busybodies and working together to restore property rights and promote economic freedoms.
Together, we have reintroduced the Defense of Environment and Property Act, which would rein in the EPA by limiting its federal jurisdiction to only those waters that are actually navigable and return control over local waters to state governments.
The EPA continues to cause serious damage to our state with its war on coal. It's estimated that a new rule governing greenhouse gases from existing coal-fired power plants will cause wholesale electricity prices to spike by as much as 18 percent.
We can't let it regulate every ditch and stream in Kentucky, too.
If the EPA can do this, there may be no limit to what it can do. Vigilance against government overreach is the price of freedom.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. Rand Paul represent Kentucky.