Paul Ryan’s Water

On January 19, 2016, President Barack Obama vetoed a resolution from Republicans in Congress that would have reversed Obama’s tightening of clean water rules from 2014, regulations enforced by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Obama wrote in his veto message:

Too many of our waters have been left vulnerable. Pollution from upstream sources ends up in the rivers, lakes, reservoirs, and coastal waters near which most Americans live and on which they depend for their drinking water, recreation, and economic development.

Republicans do not have the votes to overrule the veto.

Last week Speaker of the House and Republican leader Paul Ryan penned an editorial denouncing the regulations.

The new rules expanded the definition of “main waterways” from the 1972 Clean Water Act, as Ryan writes,

…to include all adjacent bodies of water, no matter how small. In other words, streams, drainage ditches and ponds — even those on private property — are now subject to the whims and aggressions of Washington bureaucrats.

Ryan believes the EPA wishes to “micromanage everyone’s use of their own land, including that of farmers and ranchers.” As evidence, he tells of a Wyoming farmer who was fined nearly $40,000 a day for “building a pond on his land to water his horses.” The farmer, in order to build his pond, built a dam on a tributary of a U.S. interstate river, which requires a federal permit, for which the farmer refused to apply after repeated warnings.

Ryan also cites a California farmer “told that he broke the law simply by plowing his land.” While the full story may indeed seem ridiculous, it is likewise complicated, as the EPA accused the farmer of plowing too deep in wetlands, which leads to their destruction, affecting environments elsewhere.

While critics may see the latter farmer’s insistence that “They’re trying to stop farmers. They’re simply trying to chase us off of our land” as incorrect (the EPA wants to stop wheat production so people go hungry? Or get rid of farmers so EPA employees can work the land themselves?), the statement serves Ryan’s point.

According to him, the regulations are only “allegedly” to protect the water supply people use to drink and farm from damage. They are actually meant to be a “power grab” for the sake of power; the EPA just likes to “micromanage” citizens. Ryan does not address any rationale the EPA might provide, such as:

The scientific literature unequivocally demonstrates that streams, individually or cumulatively, exert a strong influence on the integrity of downstream waters. All tributary streams, including perennial, intermittent, and ephemeral streams, are physically, chemically, and biologically connected to downstream rivers via channels and associated alluvial deposits where water and other materials are concentrated, mixed, transformed, and transported.

Liberal critics point out Ryan is responding to the lobbying of large corporations that oppose the tighter restrictions: “The US Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers have joined the ranks of the American Farm Bureau Federation, Dairy Farmers of America, pesticide manufacturers, mining companies, home builders, and the Koch-owned-and-run timber industry, to name but a few.”

Ryan believes in “the states’ primacy in water management.” He concludes:

Water is the foundation of life… Congress will continue to make sure that people who depend upon this indispensable resource are not imperiled by an overzealous federal bureaucracy.

So far, Ryan has remained silent on what many see as the far greater water crisis in Flint, Michigan, a disaster wrought by a state ignoring and resisting federal regulations on decontaminating public water.

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