Waters of the United States
Regulations included Waters of the United States Rule are targets for deregulation.

Scrapping regulations calls for discretion

Efforts to dismantle the Environmental Protection Agency are an overreach to correct overreach; a little discretion is in order.

As a new Congress settles into conducting the country’s business, many in the agriculture sector look forward to a sweeping rollback of regulations, primarily in the Environmental Protection Agency, but from other departments as well. Dumping regulations was, after all, a centerpiece of President Trump’s and the Republican Party’s campaign platform.

The ball is now in their court.

But, in the words of college football’s Game Day prognosticator, Lee Corso: “Not so fast.”  The laws of unintended consequences tend to play havoc with actions that occur too quickly and with too little consideration of what opponents think. Which is not to say that regulations aren’t in need of adjustments. But legislators should take into consideration that power shifts occur (remember November), and a pendulum that swings too hard one way tends to swing back just as forcefully.  Calls to eliminate the EPA, for instance, might play well to some, but strike a discordant note to others who remember rivers that caught fire, cities shrouded in choking, hydrocarbon-laced smog, and fresh-caught fish not fit to eat because of industrial pollution. Discretion is called for.

Does overreach occur in regulatory agencies? Of course it does —sometimes by long-term employees who may follow the letter, but perhaps not the intent, of the law. Perhaps, too, overzealous regulators stretch guidelines to their limits, pushing past any intent of the original rule makers.

And some, I’m certain, use common sense, good judgment, and a balanced approach in order to safeguard a landowner’s rights without jeopardizing the environment.

Farmers, I know from decades of interviews, recognize better than most the importance of conservation, preservation of natural resources, and leaving land in better shape than they got it. They also cringe at regulations that make little practical sense, and that may even constrain their ability to manage resources wisely.

I’ve surmised that a big problem with the Waters of the United States Rule is the ambiguous definition of what is considered a water of the United States. Too much is left to interpretation, and not enough to specificity. Some adjustment is necessary.

But scrapping the Clean Water Act would be an overreach to correct an overreach.

It’s not a word understood much in Washington any more, but compromise should be top of mind as Congress begins to consider how to bring regulations in line with practicality. Cooperation, too, is hard to find, but much needed as legislators and agencies work to find common ground and workable solutions that will protect both our natural resources and landowners’ property rights.

It’s a big hill to climb — and one that calls for something considerably smaller than a bulldozer to scale regulations back sensibly.

 

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