Q: Does the Environmental Protection Agency have jurisdiction over waterways on Iowa farms?
A: Congress writes environmental laws to set in place policies that protect the air we breathe, the water we drink and the land in which our food grows. The executive branch is tasked with faithfully carrying out these laws. In keeping with our system of checks and balances, the judicial branch has been called upon to determine whether the nation’s environmental laws stay within constitutional boundaries, including whether the executive branch administers the laws as Congress intended or exceeds its authority over individual rights. Not surprisingly, a complex web of agencies, bureaus and departments has emerged within the federal bureaucracy to develop and implement regulatory, enforcement and compliance measures to uphold federal laws. The USDA and Army Corps of Engineers carry out flood control, water quality and soil conservation programs, as an example. In 1970 the Environmental Protection Agency was established to coordinate implementation of federal laws written to safeguard human health and natural resources. That’s a tall order, particularly considering environmental policy significantly impacts economic growth in the areas of energy, transportation, agriculture, manufacturing and international trade. In the last four decades, the EPA has increased its reach into state and local governments, communities, homes, businesses and farms. As its reputation for overreach continues its expansive trajectory, family farmers in Iowa are raising concerns. Specifically, EPA regulators are seeking to make rule changes to the Clean Water Act that would assert agency authority over small, even intermittent waters that currently are regulated at the state or local level. Should the proposed new rules greatly expand the jurisdiction of the federal Clean Water Act far beyond its traditional limits, the farming community will face real uncertainty.
Many farmers in Iowa have misgivings about EPA assurances that the proposed rules will not interfere with the normal operations of ditches, tile drainage systems or streambeds on their property.