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Thornberry Introduces House Version of Bill to Protect Land Owner Rights

Bill Would Limit the Scope of EPA Actions on Private Property

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Washington, Oct 31, 2013 | comments
Citing the importance of protecting private property rights and concerns over the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) aggressive efforts to expand its authority, U.S. Congressman Mac Thornberry (R-Clarendon) yesterday introduced the Defense of Environment and Property Act of 2013, H.R. 3377.  The bill redefines the term "navigable waters" in the Clean Water Act (CWA) as waters that are navigable-in-fact in an effort to protect private property owners from regulatory expansion by the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers.  The Senate version of the bill was introduced by Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) earlier this year.

"This bill is a simple, commonsense way to protect private landowners from regulatory overreach by the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers,” said Rep. Thornberry.  “Everyone recognizes the importance of safe, abundant water, especially folks who live and work in our part of Texas.  But an expansion of federal regulatory power over water resources would have serious consequences for those who earn their living from the land, for property rights, and for the quality of life of many Americans," Thornberry continued.

The current definition in the CWA simply states that the term "navigable waters" means "the waters of the United States, including the territorial seas."  There have been disputes between Congress, federal agencies, and the Supreme Court about how exactly to interpret that definition, which has left private landowners with uncertainty.  The EPA has announced it wants to create a new rule “clarifying Clean Water Act (CWA) jurisdiction.”  Depending upon the proposed change, the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers could have the authority to regulate almost any wet area on private land that has some connection to a navigable body of water.  The policy change could deem roadside ditches, farm ponds, culverts, and temporary wet spots as “waters of the U.S.” under control of the federal government. 

"Environmental protection must be balanced with the constitutional right to private property," Sen. Paul said.  "I have spoken with several Americans who have fallen victim to the EPA and Army Corps' aggressive breach of power.  This act will restore common sense to the federal jurisdiction over navigable waters, place necessary limitations on out-of-control government agencies and protect our right to private property." 

Rep. Thornberry's and Sen. Paul's bills will do the following:
  • Redefine “navigable waters” to explicitly clarify that waters must actually be navigable in fact, or “permanent or continuously flowing bodies of water that form geographical features commonly known as streams, oceans, rivers and lakes that are connected to waters that are navigable-in-fact.”
  • Exclude ephemeral or intermittent streams – the streams that sometimes form when rain falls – from federal jurisdiction.
  • Restrain the EPA and the Army Corps from regulating or “interpreting” the definition of a navigable water without Congressional authorization.
  • Protect the rights of states to have primary authority over the land and water within their borders.
  • Prohibit federal agents from entering private property without the express consent of the landowner.
  • Require the government to pay double the value of the land to any landowner whose property value is diminished by a wetlands designation.
Senator Paul introduced S.890 on May 7, 2013 in the Senate with Senators Lee, McConnell, Rubio, and Vitter.
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