The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency boasted back in May that its new clean-water rule would mark a historic step to protect the nation's streams and wetlands from pollution.
But U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander sees the new rule as government overreach at its worst — or, as he described it recently, yet another "big wet blanket of burdensome regulations."
"The rule is a classic example of taking a good thing way too far," the Maryville Republican said. "All of us want our rivers and streams to be clean water because we drink from them and we swim in them and we fish in them. But to extend that regulation to standing water or mud puddles adjacent to those streams, that takes a good idea and goes overboard with it."
Closely watching the fight between the Republican-controlled Congress and President Barack Obama's administration are Tennessee farmers, who shudder at the thought of the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers suddenly having the power to regulate small bodies of water, like wetlands, headwaters and some ponds, near their operations.
"We want clean water," said Lacy Upchurch, president of the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation. But, "the farmers are doing a good job with their conservation practices. We just think its overreach from the EPA."
The cause of the consternation is the EPA's new "Waters of the United States" rule, which expands the definition of bodies of water that are subject to federal pollution controls.
The federal government already has broad authority under the Clean Water Act of 1972 to limit pollution in major bodies of water, such as the Mississippi River, as well as larger streams that drain into them. The new rule allows the EPA to regulate pollution in smaller bodies, such as lakes, streams and wetlands.
The EPA says the change is needed because pollution in small streams and wetlands often ends up in larger downstream bodies that are vital to the ecosystem. But farmers and businesses argue the new rule is so ambiguous that it could apply to just about any small body of water on or near their land and could leave them vulnerable to fines of $37,500 a day if a pond or a stream is accidentally disrupted.
"We're talking about a ditch in the middle of a soybean field that has been declared waters of the United States by EPA and the Corps of Engineers," Upchurch said.
Tennessee farmers aren't the only Americans worried about the EPA's overreach: citizens from all across the country have been speaking out against burdensome federal regulations on everything from water to power to healthcare. Enough is enough. An Article V Convention of States can propose constitutional amendments that significantly limit the power and jurisdiction of our federal bureaucracies.