Reviewing Waters of U.S. rule a positive step

Posted: Mar. 5, 2017 12:01 am

PRESIDENT Donald Trump's executive order that requires a review of the Waters of the United States rule is a victory for property owners, proponents of limited government and the rule of law.

In 2014, the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began writing new regulations that would greatly expand their powers, giving them control over water falling on, flowing through or pooling anywhere in the United States.

The EPA director at that time said new regulations were needed to clarify what "navigable waters" meant in the Clean Water Act of 1972. If indeed anyone didn't understand the term, it was the EPA, which had been overruled by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2001 and again in 2006 when the agency tried to expand its jurisdiction.

Members of Congress got involved and voted in November 2015 to overturn the regulatory overreach that had come to be known by the acronym WOTUS. President Barack Obama vetoed that resolution, basically allowing government agencies to rewrite federal law.

Farmers and agricultural groups were among the first to object, but they were soon joined by developers, golf course operators, homebuilders, highway contractors, cities and groups such as the U.S. Small Business Administration. Farm Bureaus in Illinois and Missouri, the Great River Economic Development Foundation, the Pike County Board and Pike County Economic Development Corp. are among the many opponents of the rule in Western-Central Illinois and Northeast Missouri.

Pat Poepping, an engineer and president of Poepping, Stone, Bach & Associates of Quincy, told The Herald-Whig at the time that he believed that building permits, siting permits and other paperwork might be required on millions of additional acres of land across the country if the rule was allowed to go into effect.

Trump's executive order does not immediately rescind WOTUS rules, but it does put them on hold until the EPA and corps go through public hearings and reviews. Several courts already have issued injunctions halting implementation of the rules.

However, this does not mean the nation is without protection. The EPA has jurisdiction to battle polluters through other laws that cover illegal dumping, endangering general health and welfare, and similar broadly written rules.

Best of all, those laws were passed by Congress, as prescribed by the U.S. Constitution. And if there are questions about the validity or meaning of those laws, courts are empowered to render judgments.

Presidential administrations change and bureaucracies such as the EPA can and do change their approach to enforcement. However, it's clear the EPA should not be able to bypass the legislative and judicial branches of government to set its own agenda.

The president was right to order a review of this gross violation of how the government is supposed to work.