St. Paul, Minnesota – Vancouver, Washington


St. Paul, Minnesota
October 6, 2010
(612) 558-2859

A Clean Water Fallacy
Don Parmeter

(498 words)

     There are several disturbing aspects about H.R. 5088, America’s Commitment to Clean Water Act, authored by Minnesota Congressman James Oberstar and introduced in April.
There’s the bill itself, arguably the biggest federal power grab in American history, given the proposed change in language to the 1972 federal Clean Water Act.  Mr. Oberstar’s bill would replace the term ‘Navigable’ with ‘Waters of the U.S.,’ which would include: all waters currently used, used in the past, or susceptible to use in future commerce; all interstate and international waters; and all other waters and their tributaries, including intrastate lakes, rivers, streams, mudflats, sandflats, wetlands, ponds, meadows and sloughs.
     The legislation is also intended to control land use, a responsibility traditionally held by state and local governments.  In water-rich states like Minnesota, it’s hard to imagine any activity that doesn’t affect water.  In Rep. Oberstar’s own district, this bill would be a job killer.  It is opposed by trade associations representing mining, forestry, agriculture, energy, recreation, manufacturing, and just about every other sector of the American economy.  The only job opportunities would be for environmental attorneys, as it would open the flood gates for endless litigation.
The bill would overturn two recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions, and is strongly opposed by the National Association of Counties and the Association of Minnesota Counties.  It is also in conflict with a 1995 Minnesota water rights statute, authored by prominent democrats from Oberstar’s own district, including former Speaker of the House Irv Anderson, former Senators Doug Johnson and Bob Lessard, Senator Tom Bakk, and Representative Tom Rukavina. 
     Secondly, Rep. Oberstar has used his position as Chairman of the powerful Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in an attempt to get a previous version of the bill passed without a hearing–a truly underhanded tactic for a bill of such significance.  Only a last-minute appeal by a handful of Democrats on his committee prevented the bill from going to the floor of the House for a vote.
     Finally, and perhaps most troublesome, is Mr. Oberstar’s decision to keep his constituents in the dark on such a critical and controversial issue.  After becoming Transportation Committee chairman in 2007, Mr. Oberstar was asked by a local reporter about his legislative agenda.  This issue wasn’t even mentioned.  In Washington circles, it is widely known that the bill is a top priority for Mr. Oberstar, and perhaps one meant to secure his legacy.  This is hardly a shining example of representative government at work here. 
     From a legal and technical standpoint, this issue is complicated.  From a political standpoint, it is simple.  Do people want more power and influence concentrated in Washington or closer to home?  Past experience in Minnesota and elsewhere tells us that water quality and other environmental problems can be solved faster, better, and cheaper at the state and local level, with less help from environmental attorneys and others with hidden agendas, and more help from honest scientists and average people of common sense and good will.
Don Parmeter is co-chairman of the National Water & Conservation Alliance, established in 2009 to develop and promote local and regional alternatives to expansion of federal authority under the 1972 Clean Water Act.

Mr. Parmeter is a native of northern Minnesota and a former pollution control engineer.  He is a West Point graduate with a Bachelor of Science Degree, and was awarded an EPA Fellowship to support a graduate program in the interdisciplinary field of energy and environmental studies at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.   He has been a leader in state and national environmental issues for over 35 years.  In 2003, he received the annual grassroots leadership award from the Property Rights Foundation of America.