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Senator Griffin joins Congressmen in opposing new EPA water rule

Calling it a “wholesale attack on rural Arizona,” State Senator Gail Griffin (R-Hereford) joined four Arizona Congressmen and a host of ranching, agriculture, and water experts in condemning the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) recently-announced expansion of the agency’s regulatory authority under the Clean Water Act at a Congressional field hearing at the State Capitol on Monday.

In prepared remarks, Senator Griffin strongly condemned the EPA’s proposed rule as “nothing less than an unlawful expansion of federal regulation over routine farming and ranching practices, as well as other common private land uses, such as home building.”

“For the first time in history, this rule would give federal regulators authority over irrigation ditches, storm water systems, roadside ditches, waters located within riparian and floodplain areas, and dry washes. All of these so-called ‘waters’—even if they don’t have water in them—could be subject to EPA regulations under this proposed rule.

“Under this rule, if approved, everyday activities like grazing cattle, plowing a field, applying fertilizer, managing weeds, building a home, or even simply planting a tree, could now require a permit from the federal government. What this means is that a regulator sitting behind a desk in San Francisco or Washington, D.C. could decide whether a farmer tilling his field in rural Arizona is a threat to the water quality of a dry river.

“It takes a special kind of arrogance to assert that a wash or irrigation ditch with no water flowing in it should be subject to the Clean Water Act; yet that is exactly what the EPA is proposing.”

Senator Griffin was not alone in condemning the EPA proposal. Arizona Congressmen Trent Franks, Paul Gosar, David Schweikert and Matt Salmon each expressed their strong opposition to what they called a massive expansion of federal regulatory authority that would have a devastating impact on Arizona’s economy.

“This rule is one of the largest expansions of federal power in our nation’s history,” Congressman Gosar explained. “The EPA’s shoddy economic analysis [of the rule] contains so many errors, omissions, and flawed assumptions that experts like [University of California, Berkeley Professor] David Sunding are calling it ‘virtually meaningless.’ In its rush to implement the President’s radical agenda, the EPA published this new rule without waiting for expert advice.”

“The vague terms used in this rule promise to subject everyday Americans to invasive, burdensome regulations that could very well crush them through lengthy court proceedings and exorbitant litigation costs,” Congressman Salmon said. “[T]he proposed rule could also prohibit ranchers and farmers from lawfully making necessary, on-the-spot decisions that are essential to the success of their herd or crops. For the first time ever, the EPA is defining ditches as tributaries, which would subject private land owners to a whole slew of complicated regulatory penalties.”

The Congressmen and Senator Griffin heard testimony from two panels of experts, including representatives of Arizona’s agriculture, home building, irrigation, and water industries.

Stefanie Smallhouse, a Cochise County rancher and First Vice President of the Arizona Farm Bureau, told the hearing that the rule would be devastating to Arizona’s agriculture industry. “The newly proposed EPA rule for the Waters of the U.S. would be devastating to my family’s farming operation, as well as hundreds of others in agriculture in Arizona…This proposed rule is an economic disaster, and a dream killer for my kids. There is no way a family farm such as ours would be able to withstand the hefty fines which would be enforced as a result of this rule.”

Robert Lynch, an attorney for Arizona irrigation and electrical districts, testified that the rule would have real impacts on everyday activities on private property. “The EPA and the Corps have driven a truck through Justice Kennedy’s opinion in Rapanos. According to them, everything is relevant, everything affects everything, and everything is jurisdictional… How many permits will the Central Arizona Project need? Will it have to treat the water before it stores it in Lake Pleasant? Before it releases it back into its system to deliver to cities, towns, industries and agriculture? And who will be able to afford it? Certainly not agriculture…

Mr. Lynch concluded, “This may be the biggest jurisdictional overreach that I have witnessed in 50 years of law practice. I hate to say it but the only people who come out ahead on this proposed rule are lawyers.”

Representatives from Arizona’s housing and real estate industries agreed that the rule would have a detrimental impact on the state’s housing market.

“This rule is a thinly veiled attempt to assert the federal government’s reach to any property with water,” said Nicole LaSlavic of the Arizona Association of Realtors.

Similarly, Spencer Kamps of the Central Arizona Homebuilders Association warned that the rule would slow Arizona’s housing recovery. “This is a blanket rule that would extend federal jurisdiction to ephemeral streams and dry washes. It would have a significant adverse impact on our industry and on the economy of the state.”

Senator Griffin concluded her remarks by calling on Congress to act. “It’s time for Congress to reign in the EPA and other federal agencies before it’s too late. Federal environmental regulations are killing rural America. Arizona’s economy—especially its natural resources industries—can only absorb so much.”

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