WASHINGTON – It’s called the Clean Water Restoration Act.
Sounds innocuous enough. After all, who could oppose clean water?
But the bill introduced earlier this month by Sen. Russ Feingold and 23 co-sponsors, ostensibly to protect Americas wetlands, lakes and streams, was running into opposition even before hearings begin.
The Montana Senate overwhelmingly voted to oppose the legislation because it removes control of all of the state’s waterways, including temporary ones like seasonal ponds and swamps, from local officials to those in Washington.
The 29-19 bipartisan vote of the Montana Senate was meant to send a clear signal to Washington – “get your hands off our water.”
The new legislation would bring federal oversight to all waters in the U.S., going further than the original Clean Water Act, which was limited to navigable waters.
Montana legislators say the bill would potentially run roughshod over the rights of property owners.
“It’s why I call it the goodbye clause, or the goodbye private property clause,” Sen. John Brenden, R-Scobey, said about the new legislation.
The original Clean Water act, they say, was sold as an effort to reduce pollution in the nation’s rivers, lakes and streams, but expanded to include regulatory control over ponds, wetlands, dry lakebeds – even drainage ditches.
Aside from the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act has sparked more lawsuits than any other piece of environmental legislation.
Two Supreme Court decisions ruled the federal government had exceeded its mandate in attempting to control isolated wetlands through the law.
Opponents of the new law say it pushes the limits of federal power further than perhaps any other law in U.S. history – a grab for power heretofore left to the states.
The Competitive Enterprise Institute says the bill would put the Army Corps of Engineers in charge of a nationwide land permitting process – removing authority from the people and properties actually affected by decisions it would make.