Three Cheers for Decentralization and Deregulation

Last week the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced it is repealing the Waters of the U.S. rule (WOTUS), following President Trump’s executive order to review this rule put in place by the Obama administration. Government agencies rarely give up power so this repeal marks an important victory for limited government.

Although WOTUS only applies to “navigable waters” owned by the United States, the rule also allowed the EPA to regulate “tributaries,” “adjacent waters,” and the all-inclusive “other waters.” According to Heritage Research Fellow in Agricultural Policy, Daren Bakst, this “complex and vague” wording essentially granted the EPA the authority to regulate nearly every body of water.

As a result of this massive overreach, many farmers and ranchers have been required to obtain permits, even for ongoing, farming activity. One study revealed that in order to obtain one major EPA required permit, “the average applicant…spends 788 days and $271,596 in completing the process.” Following a recent case, a California farmer faces fines totaling about $2.8 million for violating the WOTUS rule after he plowed his own field.

Under WOTUS, the federal government has regulatory authority over the water in 247 million acres of American farmland. Additionally, even if farmers applied and received certain permits required by the EPA, the permits could be “retroactively” revoked even if the holder continued to comply with the rules and regulations.

WOTUS not only hurts the average American farmer and rancher, but also significantly impairs the real estate market. The regulations unnecessarily increase the costs of development and in many cases prevent development altogether.

According to Bakst, “the choice is not between this proposed WOTUS rule and clean water.” Water and environmental cases are unique and varied. A decentralized approach to environmental regulation allows states and localities to more effectively balance environmental concerns with economic development. In contrast, the EPA rule is widely, unnecessarily, and inconsistently applied.

The Trump Administration’s announcement marks an important triumph of decentralization and deregulation. The EPA will now no longer be able to arbitrarily assume power and undermine American farmers, ranchers, and real estate professionals.

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