For anyone who believes that personal property may one day become a thing of the past in the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency has just done something that will bolster their theory. This week, the EPA announced the finalization of the Clean Water Rule, a new series of regulations that would put all tributaries under the authority of the federal government. The problem? There is no agreed-upon definition for the word “tributary.” This has led many critics to worry that this will put nearly every body of water in the U.S. – even those as insignificant as a drainage ditch – under federal control.
In a worst-case-scenario – and there is little reason to hope for anything else when it comes to this administration – it could put every single body of water in America under the full control of Washington. It blurs the lines between public and private property in a way that we haven’t seen before. Remarkably, this is being met with very little media coverage, very little public concern, and very little attention.
Despite the relative lack of conversation in the mainstream, farmers and ranchers are up in arms about the finalization of the Clean Water Rule. They fear that the EPA will be pressured into pushing beyond private property boundaries by powerful environmental groups. The administration insists this won’t be the case, but they have developed regulations with the kind of language that would permit them a great deal of latitude. In many ways, it is similar to the FCC takeover of the Internet. The administration promises to keep their grubby hands off content, but the language gives them the leeway to do just that if they find an opening in the future.
On Monday, it was announced that sixteen states would be fighting back. Texas, Mississippi, and Louisiana are leading a lawsuit against the EPA, calling it an “impermissible expansion of federal power over the states.” Attorneys for the states have said that the CWR would have grave implications for the property rights of citizens. This lawsuit is accompanied by another brought by thirteen states, filed in North Dakota.
In a normal week, it would be hard to imagine how the courts could possibly come down in favor of the EPA in these cases. The wording of the regulation is far too broad, and it specifically endangers the principles of the U.S. Constitution. Alas, this is no normal week. In back to back cases, we’ve seen that this Supreme Court is more than willing to ignore that hallowed document if it means furthering an agenda. And since it’s easy enough to draw a line between water pollution and climate change (in their minds), you have to wonder where the courts will land on these lawsuits.
In the meantime, it’s enough to know that this administration wants more federal control over American land. And unless we have courts willing to stand up for private property, there is very little standing in Obama’s way.