Rancher testifies in opposition to Clean Water Act expansion
WASHINGTON - Representing the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) and the Montana Stockgrowers Association (MSGA), Montana rancher Randy Smith testified today before the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. Smith, of Glen, Mont., appeared in opposition to a legislative proposal that would greatly expand the federal government’s jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act. Senate Bill 1870 would strike the word “navigable” from the Clean Water Act’s definition of “waters of the United States” – thereby expanding the reach of the Clean Water Act to even the smallest and most isolated bodies of water.
Supporters of S. 1870 contend the bill simply restores the original intent of Congress with regard to the Clean Water Act. But Smith soundly rejected that claim, and said this legislation would subject cattle producers to unprecedented and unwarranted federal regulatory intrusion into their private business operations.
“NCBA and MSGA do not agree that this bill ‘restores’ Congressional intent regarding the extent of federal jurisdiction over waters,” Smith told the committee. “Instead, this bill ignores Congressional intent and greatly expands federal jurisdiction far beyond anything Congress imagined at the time of enactment.”
Smith’s cattle operation has been honored for its environmental stewardship, and he is chairman of southwestern Montana’s Big Hole Watershed Committee – a group formed in 1995 to address resource and conservation issues related to the Big Hole River and its surroundings. He reminded committee members that cattle producers are well-known as excellent stewards of land and water quality, because their families’ livelihoods depend on it. But he argued that cooperative efforts at the state and local level can often be more effective than sweeping federal regulations.
“The Big Hole Watershed Committee is just one example in Montana of a voluntary effort involving diverse interests, including federal agencies, state agencies, county government, wildlife, conservation and agriculture groups coming together to work toward the goal of a cleaner and more plentiful water supply,” Smith said. "All authority over our nation's water would be given to the federal government."
Smith warned that broad expansion of the Clean Water Act would impose a significant financial burden on the nation’s farmers and ranchers and harm their private property rights, while doing little to improve the environment.
“It is one thing to regulate navigable waters and wetlands that have a ‘significant nexus’ to those waters, because they have true environmental value," Smith said. "It is another thing to regulate every wet area, or potentially wet area simply because it is wet, regardless of the fact that these areas provide very little if any environmental value. To think that a rancher would be forced to get a Section 404 permit whenever a cow stepped in a dry wash or a puddle is nothing less than shocking."