Niagara Gazette

Bob Confer

April 22, 2014

CONFER: Property rights and the Clean Water Act

Niagara Gazette — The United States of America was founded on the premise of natural rights, succinctly dictated as the unalienable rights of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

During the era in which the Declaration of Independence was framed, the pursuit of happiness applied to property rights. Our founding fathers knew that man has the right to attain property, keep it, and engage in its use to make his life better in manners that he saw fit as long as the rights of others were not infringed.

Despite the obviousness of these rights, the framers of our nation found it necessary to clearly define them in the Declaration and once again in the Fifth Amendment because history showed them that the inalienability of property rights had been cast aside by numerous despots and societies, which in turn led to one of two things: oppression of their people or the ruination of those societies.

Over time, our government has purposely strayed from these basal tenets. Property has become something that our federal government has gained illegally and expanded its power over, controlling its use at whim.

Matters look to only get worse with subjugation of water rights by the federal government through amendment of the scope of the Clean Water Act of 1972.

In its current form the act gives jurisdiction over navigable waters to the federal government. This is not a perfect law, but it does have some merit because regulation of navigable waters is necessary for the maintenance of interstate trade (one of the defined powers of the federal government), and those upstream can very easily affect the life, liberty and happiness of others downstream if they are not regulated in their industrial and waste outputs or kept from damming the waterway.

The modified version of the Clean Water Act, the draft of which was introduced by the Environmental Protection Agency less than a month ago, would expand its regulatory powers beyond navigable waters and would throw into the mix any waterway that contributes to the watershed of the navigable water. Therefore, federal jurisdiction would be extended to all bodies of water – permanent or intermittent – everywhere in the United States, be they in your backyard or on your farm. The federal definition would be extended to include, among other things, streams, wetlands, sloughs, wet meadows, ponds and ditches.

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