When EPA worries about regulating puddles, it has gone too far

The latest example of Obama Administration overreach is here. A new regulation issued by the Environmental Protection Agency would greatly expand federal authority over Alabama waters. The administration is selling the rule as protecting drinking water, but make no mistake — this is about power and control.

Just how bad is the new rule? It is so broad and so expansive that the EPA was forced to specifically exclude puddles from the regulation's reach. While I'm grateful that the federal government won't be inspecting Alabamians' front yards every time it rains, the fact that such an exemption was needed speaks to just how dangerous — and costly — this regulation will be if it is allowed to stand.

The rule expands EPA's authority far beyond what was intended by the Clean Water Act — protecting America's lakes and rivers from pollution — arguably to every stream, ditch, and pond within our state, even those that only occasionally hold water. And it's entirely unclear how this expansion of federal power comports with one of the main goals of the Clean Water Act — facilitating cooperation between the states and the federal government.

Every day, the hard-working men and women of Alabama's Department of Environmental Management are on the ground, protecting Alabama's rivers and lakes in a way that is beneficial to all. EPA should support them in that work, not make it more difficult.

Not surprisingly, EPA's rule has faced intense criticism since a preliminary version was first unveiled in April 2014. But rather than respond to these complaints, the EPA has launched an unprecedented public relations campaign, flooding social media in an attempt to drown out complaints about a rule that cannot be defended on the merits.

But clever tweets and Facebook posts can't hide the truth — this new rule is bad for Alabama. It is rife with ambiguities and loose language, opening the door for EPA to regulate in unpredictable and ever-expanding ways.

Alabama's farmers will be among the hardest hit. Every time they plant a crop, apply fertilizer, or move cattle across a stream, they may be subject to new permitting requirements. EPA assures us that they will refrain from applying the rule so broadly, but Alabama's farmers deserve better than empty promises from the federal government. They deserve a rule that clearly defines their rights and responsibilities and that properly limits EPA's power.

Our farmers feed the world. They are up before dawn and work till well after sunset. They face any number of challenges they can't control, from too much rain to not enough, from disease to insect infestations. My office is fighting to ensure that they don't have to add EPA permitting requirements to that list.

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