Government Land Grab

By: Jason Gibson

Blog Category: The Economics of Environmental Regulation

The Clean Water Act (CWA) was enacted in 1972 to “restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the nation’s waters by preventing point and nonpoint pollution sources, providing assistance to publicly owned treatment works for the improvement of wastewater treatment, and maintaining the integrity of wetlands.”  The law is designed to protect waters with a “significant nexus” to “navigable waters.”  However, the scope of the statute has remained unclear since its inception and often defines navigable waters as “waters of the United States.”

Recently the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced a rule that would expand the authority of the CWA to include over a million acres of wetlands and 2 million miles of streams.  The EPA justifies this expansion by arguing that many of these areas are where people get drinking water and also where they hunt, despite the fact that some of these are dry for parts of the year.  This new proposal is meeting intense opposition from those claiming that the new rule will damage the economy by placing unnecessary burdens on farmers and developers who will need to obtain federal permits to conduct their routine activities.  Several governors in the western United States, including Democratic Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, are also worried about the impact this new rule would have on drought management, an often serious and costly issue in states such as California.

Sen. Pat Toomey and other politicians have called on the EPA to withdraw this proposal or expand the public review period to six months.  Currently, the rule is only opened for public review for 90 days; despite the fact that the government’s own peer reviewed scientific assessment will not be completed until the end of the year.

The opinions expressed herein are strictly those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Widener Journal of Law, Economics & Race.  


Hope Yen, Clean Water Act Expansion Draws Ire from GOP as White House Prepares to Regulate Waterways, The Huffington Post (Apr. 4, 2014, 8:50 AM), available at

Juliet Eilperin & Darryl Fears, EPA Proposes Greater Protections for Streams, Wetlands Under Clean Water Act, The Washington Post (Mar. 25, 2014), available at


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