Water Restoration Act Threatens Ranchers, Small Business

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National Cattlemen’s Beef Association:  WASHINGTON (July 22 2009) – Jim Chilton, a fifth generation rancher from southeast Ariz., testified today on behalf of National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) and the Public Lands Council (PLC) during a House Committee on Small Business hearing on the Clean Water Restoration Act (CWRA). Chilton, whose family has been in the cattle business for over 120 years, explained how the CWRA would threaten farmers and ranchers, in addition to small businesses, small communities, forestry, mining, and manufacturing on private and federally-managed lands.

“This is essentially a limitless national land and water use control effort that will regulate every activity in a wet area in the nation,” said Chilton. “It’s nothing more than a ‘nice-sounding’ name which masks an economically and culturally devastating power grab, flagrantly violating both the spirit and the words of the U.S. Constitution.”

The proposed Act—which passed out of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee last month—would drastically expand the Clean Water Act (CWA), giving the Army Corps of Engineers (“Corps”) and the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) control over all watersheds in the nation, and all “activities affecting these waters.” Since all land in the nation is within a watershed, it means that the Corps and EPA would have land-use control over farmers’ and ranchers’ property and other businesses not currently under the jurisdiction of the CWA. This new Federal jurisdiction would include hundreds of millions of isolated, intrastate pools, stock water ponds, springs, small lakes, depressions filled with water on an intermittent basis, drainage and irrigation ditches, irrigated areas that would otherwise be dry, sloughs, and damp places located on farms and ranches that have no nexus with any navigable waters.

Under the Act, family ranchers and farmers may be required to obtain permits from the EPA or Corps before conducting common, everyday operations, like watering their cattle or farming their land. The federal government is already struggling to handle a backlog of 15,000 to 20,000 existing section 404 permit requests. According to the U.S. Supreme Court, the average applicant for an individual Clean Water Act permit spends 788 days and $271,596 in complying with the current process, and the average applicant for a nationwide permit currently spends 313 days and $28,915 – not counting the substantial costs of mitigation or design changes (Rapanos, 447 U.S. at 719, plurality opinion). Considering U.S. farmers and ranchers own and manage approximately 666.4 million acres of the 1.938 billion acres of the contiguous U.S. land mass, the massive new permitting requirements under this Act would be an unmanageable burden for the government, and could literally bring farming operations to a standstill.

Chilton shared from personal experience about a time his family ranch had to apply for a 404 permit to construct a road across a dry wash on their private property. The regulatory approval process took over a year and cost his family nearly $40,000.

“As a rancher, I wholeheartedly understand the critical importance of a clean water supply; it’s necessary for the health of my animals and my land,” said Chilton. “Federal agencies have ample authority under existing law to protect water quality, and it’s essential that the partnership between the federal and state levels of government be maintained so states can continue to have the essential flexibility to do their own land and water use planning.”

For more information, visit: http://www.beefusa.org/NEWSNCBAPLCUrgeSenatetoStopFederalLandGrabProtectPrivatePropertyRights38922.aspx

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The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) has represented America’s cattle producers since 1898, preserving the heritage and strength of the industry through education and public policy.  As the largest association of cattle producers, NCBA works to create new markets and increase demand for beef.  Efforts are made possible through membership contributions. To join, contact NCBA at 1-866-BEEF-USA or [email protected]

The Public Lands Council (PLC) has represented livestock ranchers who use public lands since 1968, preserving the natural resources and unique heritage of the West.  Public land ranchers own nearly 120 million acres of the most productive private land in the West and manage vast areas of public land, accounting for critical wildlife habitat and the nation’s natural resources.  PLC works to maintain a stable business environment in which livestock producers can conserve the West and feed the nation and world.