By Samantha Joseph
MARTIN COUNTY - A new bill by Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Stuart, seeks to overturn the authority of two federal agencies that regulate the nation's waterways.
The proposed Defense of Environment and Property Act will protect farmers and landowners from "reckless, arbitrary and aggressive enforcement actions" by the Environmental Protection Agency or EPA and Army Corps of Engineers, Rep. Rooney said in a press release.
The congressman cited among the "reckless" actions a document the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers released last year.
In the April 27, 2011 joint guidance document, Rep. Rooney said the groups made a fundamental change that expanded their powers.
They redefined the term "navigable waters" and asserted federal jurisdiction over "all waters ... subject to the ebb and flow of the tide," to include canals, ditches and ephemeral streams that form after rain, said Michael Mahaffey, spokesman for Rep. Rooney.
By broadening their control over so many bodies of water, he said the groups engaged in blatant "power grabs" to assert government control over all U.S. waters.
"The jurisdiction they have tried to claim includes canals, ditches and ephemeral streams, which form after it rains or after snow melts. Clearly, none of those examples would qualify as 'navigable waters,'" Mr. Mahaffey said.
"However, the EPA's power grabs allows them to designate those areas as wetlands, and prohibit farmers and landowners from building or expanding on their own property. It also allows them to prosecute farmers and landowners who build on those lands, and the agencies are spending hundreds of millions of dollars on those prosecutions."
Mr. Rooney stated the EPA's and Army Corps of Engineers' guidance document gives these federal agencies the authority to declare areas within their jurisdictions as wetlands, prohibiting farmers and landowners from building or expanding there.
"For many farmers and landowners, recent actions by the EPA and Corps of Engineers have put their fundamental right to private property at stake," said Rep. Rooney in a press statement.
But EPA, Army Corp of Engineers representatives and environmentalists say the measure helps protects waterways from heavy-pollutant industries, curbs overdevelopment and keeps the air clean by reducing smog and other toxins.
But Rep. Rooney and the bill's original co-sponsors, Rep. Glenn Thompson, R-Pa., and Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, said his bill considers the economy and environment.
His bill would limit the definition of "navigable waters," thereby limiting government's jurisdiction.
The term would include "permanent, standing, or continuously flowing bodies of water that form geographical features commonly known as streams, oceans, rivers and lakes that are connected to waters that are navigable-in-fact."
It would exclude "ephemeral or intermittent streams, which sometimes form when rain falls."
The law would also give states, not the federal government, primary authority over the land and water within their borders.
It would further forbid federal agents from entering private property without the express consent of landowners.
The proposed Defense of Environment and Property Act would also require the government to pay a property owner double, if a wetlands designation causes the land value to diminish.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., is sponsoring the proposed legislation in the Senate.