Reps. Jim Oberstar (D-Minn.) and Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) have called out the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for not properly enforcing the Clean Water Act, and have demanded “the agency provide Congress with information about its enforcement process.” This is in response to an internal letter from the EPA that claimed it was more difficult to enforce The Clean Water Act since the 2006 ruling in Rapanos v. United States.
The decision was a favorable one for those that object to excessive and burdensome federal regulations. The Pacific Legal Foundation, who represented John Rapanos, released this statement when the decision was made:
“Our constitutional way of life got a boost last year from the U.S. Supreme Court when the court rejected the idea that federal officials have unlimited control over every pond, puddle and ditch in our country.”
Thus, the Supreme Court decision restricts the EPA from setting a strict and expansive definition on what classifies as a wetland and what can and can’t be regulated. The EPA and Army Corps of Engineers define wetlands as “those areas that are inundated or saturated by surface or ground water at a frequency and duration sufficient to support, and that under normal circumstances do support, a prevalence of vegetations typically adapted for life in saturated soils. Wetlands generally include swamps, marshes, bogs, and similar areas”, but it is more complicated than that.
For instance, in the Rapanos case, Rapanos’ land was twenty miles away from navigable water, but under the EPA’s unrestrained definition, the term “navigable water” was also broadly defined. Having such an expansive definition would allow the EPA to run wild with environmental regulation. Moreover, a less expansive definition may beget more uncertainty as to how the EPA should regulate wetlands, but it will also lead to more careful deliberation rather than unwarranted regulations. Oberstar and Waxman shouldn’t condemn the EPA but instead applaud the agency for enforcing a complicated rule properly.