Is The EPA Preparing For A Massive Private Land Grab?

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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Republicans are accusing the Environmental Protection Agency of preparing to take control over vast swaths of land under the guise of protecting the country’s water resources. Lawmakers warn this could erode private property rights.

The EPA has consistently denied they are trying to use the Clean Water Act to expand their regulatory reach, but Republicans say they have a smoking gun that shows the agency is up to something.

Their proof? The EPA paid private contractors to assemble detailed maps of waterways and wetlands in all 50 states. The EPA maps were made in 2013, shortly after the agency proposed expanding its authority under the Clean Water Act. The maps were kept secret by the agency, but were obtained by Republicans on the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology.

“These maps show the EPA’s plan: to control a huge amount of private property across the country,” Rep. Lamar Smith, the science committee’s chairman, wrote in a letter to the EPA demanding more answers on why they have a detailed map of U.S. waterways.

“Given the astonishing picture they paint, I understand the EPA’s desire to minimize the importance of these maps,” wrote Smith, a Texas Republican. “But the EPA’s posturing cannot explain away the alarming content of these documents.”

But the EPA has denied the maps were made in preparation for a massive regulatory expansion. The agency says the maps were in fact first created during the Bush administration to identify “waters that would be vulnerable” in the wake of a 2001 Supreme Court case. The agency said the maps were updated again after a 2006 Supreme Court decision on EPA water authority.

“Let us be very clear – these maps have nothing to do with EPA’s proposed rule or any other regulatory purpose,” an EPA spokeswoman told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “EPA’s proposed rulemaking was initiated as a result of these Supreme Court cases, and seeks to protect only those waters that significantly impact health and quality of downstream waters used by America’s communities, farms and businesses for drinking, recreation, and a healthy economy.”

But Smith says the EPA has not explained why it used taxpayer dollars to pay for maps they don’t plan to use in its regulatory scheme.

“The EPA’s job is to regulate. The maps must have been created with this purpose in mind,” Smith wrote to the agency.

The fight over EPA’s water authority began last year when the agency proposed to expand the definition of “waters of the United States” — thus expanding their regulatory jurisdiction. Environmentalists and the EPA said the rule was necessary to protect U.S. waters from pollution.

Republicans, on the other hand, saw it as a massive land grab waiting to happen based on cherry-picked science.

“The ‘waters of the U.S.’ rule may be one of the most significant private property grabs in U.S. history,” said Louisiana Republican Sen. David Vitter in a statement from March. “Today’s rule also shows EPA picking and choosing the science they use. Peer review of the agency’s connectivity report is far from complete, and yet they want to take another step toward outright permitting authority over virtually any wet area in the country, while at the same time providing a new tool for environmental groups to sue private property owners.”

In its draft water rule, the EPA says that bodies of water could be federally regulated if they have a “significant nexus” to a “traditional navigable water, interstate water, or the territorial seas” — a vague and unclear definition of its regulatory reach. The EPA has assured lawmakers it would define “significant nexus” in future proposals.

Republicans have been trying to pry more information regarding the proposed rule from the EPA, which culminated in Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe agreeing to release previously secret water maps when pressed about the issue during a House hearing in July.

“It’s time to give Americans a chance to make up their own minds about the EPA’s intentions,” Smith wrote to the EPA. “While the agency marches forward with a rule that could fundamentally re-define Americans’ private property rights, the EPA kept these maps hidden.”

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