President Donald Trump began an effort to relieve the country of an unnecessary and harmful regulation by signing an executive order in February of 2017. The order began the roll-back of the Clean Water Rule put in place by the Obama administration in 2015. The Rule was a regulation published by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the United States Army Corps of Engineers to clarify water resource management in the United States under a provision of the Clean Water Act of 1972.
That action to repeal the Rule has now been finalized. It has been termed a major win for the rule of law, property rights, and the environment. It was heavily criticized for making it difficult for people to farm or even build a home on their own property.
What it did was to alter the meaning of the phrase “waters of the United States” — those waters under the control of the federal government — to include waters so small that they couldn’t even be seen by the naked eye.
Here is the way the American Farm Bureau Federation explained things: “…distant regulators using ‘desktop tools’ can conclusively establish the presence of a ‘tributary’ on private lands, even where the human eye can’t see water or any physical channel or evidence of water flow.
“That’s right — invisible tributaries!
“The agencies even claim ‘tributaries’ exist where remote sensing and other desktop tools indicate a prior existence of bed, banks, and [ordinary high-water marks], where these features are no longer present on the landscape today.”
That definition of what regulated “waters” were literally made it impossible for property owners to know what on their property is or might be covered by the Rule, but subjected them to heavy civil and/or criminal penalties for breaking the Rule.
It would therefore have been possible for dry land that holds water for a few days after heavy rain to be ruled a “water” under the Rule. That meant a mud puddle could have fallen under federal control.
The result was that some perfectly good lands were judged improper for projects their owners intended to use them for, and in the worst cases, land owners were punished for what were otherwise normal, acceptable land uses.
The vagueness of the rule, and thus the danger it imposed on property owners who want to use their property for their chosen purposes, such as to farm it or to develop it, was substantial enough to have drawn criticism from then-U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy back in 2016: “[T]he Clean Water Act is unique in both being quite vague in its reach, arguably unconstitutionally vague, and certainly harsh in the civil and criminal sanctions it puts into practice.”
Its reach also encroached on states’ rights, the ability of the individual states to have much to say about properties within their own borders, an important element of the restrictions imposed on the federal government by the U.S. Constitution.
Such examples of overreaching by the federal government are not difficult to find. They have been growing, as legislators have enacted overreaching laws, and bureaucrats have implemented regulations with the force of law. All of which puts regular citizens at risk of breaking one of the thousands of federal no-nos.
On that topic, Townhall.com said the following in 2016: “There are at least 5,000 federal criminal laws, with 10,000-300,000 regulations that can be enforced criminally. In fact, our entire criminal code has become a leviathan unto itself. In 2003, there were only 4,000 offenses that carried criminal penalties. By 2013, that number had grown by 21 percent to 4,850. The code has become so big, that the Congressional Research Service and the American Bar Association simply do not have enough staff to adequately categorize every law we have on the books.”
This information becomes even more important when considering what might happen after November of 2020 when the nation elects its president for the next four years.
This land, built on the principals of personal freedoms and limited government, has already seen exponential growth in the size and reach of the federal government. The more laws, regulations and rules we have on the books, the less freedom the people have. The number of decrees is unfathomably large and therefore the average person, or even those knowledgeable about laws, cannot possibly know everything for which we citizens can be criminally or civilly punished.
While President Trump believes in removing regulations that needlessly or improperly interfere with normal activities — like the Clean Water Rule — and reducing taxes that allow Americans to keep more of their hard-earned income, the socialistic promises offered by Democrat hopefuls will do a sharp 180 on both of those things.
With a compliant Congress and like-thinking, over-zealous bureaucrats, if one of the more radical folks running for the Democrat nomination gets elected, they could initiate scores of new mandates and prohibitions, further limiting the freedoms of law-abiding Americans.
Robert Francis “Beto” O'Rourke gave a hint to the thinking of some of these people: “Hell, yes, we're going to take your AR-15, your AK-47."
This is precisely the opposite of the attitude we need in the White House.