Troubled Waters

 Posted 04/23/2010 07:07 PM ET

Regulation: Rep. James Oberstar wants to rewrite the Clean Water Act. If the Minnesota Democrat gets his way, the federal government will have even greater authority to take private property.

This isn’t Oberstar’s first attempt. In 2007 he also tried to rewrite the water bill. He and others weren’t happy with Supreme Court rulings that defined the limits Washington has over bodies of water that have no nexus to navigable waters.

They want full federal control over all waters.

Consequently, changing the law has become an obsession for Oberstar, and not a harmless one. Should his rewrite become law, property owners will pay.

Oberstar, who represents the 8th District in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, wants to strike from the Clean Water Act the word “navigable,” a restriction in the original bill based on constitutional principles that limit Washington’s regulatory reach.

Without that check, the federal apparatus will have dominion over all waters in America. Rainstorm puddles, mud holes, drainage and irrigation ditches, ponds, intermittent streams and prairie potholes on private lands. These have nothing to do with interstate commerce, but would suddenly be subject to federal rules — as would adjacent property — if the word is removed from the law.

This would be a historic expansion of federal authority and has the potential to be a gross violation of Americans’ liberty.

Farmers should be particularly concerned. The Oberstar bill gives federal regulators the power to police farming practices and to take their land through regulatory restrictions if those practices are deemed to be in violation of the law.

With the federal government already hobbling California farmers by denying them water, in large part due to the Endangered Species Act, Oberstar’s ambition is an existential threat to farms.

When Oberstar tried to enlarge Washington’s reach in 2007, Richard Baker, then a Republican congressman from Louisiana, a state filled with waterways, called the bill “the largest-ever expansion of federal powers over private property.”

There’s no reason to believe his current bill would be any kinder to farmers, ranchers, developers, average homeowners or the Constitution, which forbids the government from taking private property by whim.

Like almost everyone else in his party in Washington, Oberstar has gone too far. This assault on the private sector has left Americans in need of protection until they can get to the ballot box in November. We hope the minority party is up to the task.