North Carolina business groups oppose expansion of federal authority over state waters

North Carolina's farming, forestry and contracting industries expressed opposition to legislation that would expand federal jurisdiction to regulate water quality in virtually all state waterways -- from ponds to drainage ditches. At a press conference, a group of civic leaders derided the cost of giving the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers authority over all local North Carolina waterways. The legislation would amend the Clean Water Act by eliminating one word -- "navigable"...

• Say proposed legislation would negatively affect North Carolina's farming, forestry and contracting industries

ASHEVILLE, NC, Dec. 18, 2007 -- North Carolina's farming, forestry and contracting industries expressed today their opposition to legislation that would expand federal jurisdiction to regulate water quality in virtually all state waterways -- from ponds to drainage ditches. At a press conference, a group of civic leaders derided the cost of giving the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers authority over all local North Carolina waterways, both real and potential.

"The scope of this legislation is breathtaking," said Larry Wooten, President of the North Carolina Farm Bureau. "It will raise costs for farmers and homeowners while also burdening state and local governments."

The legislation introduced by Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) and Rep. James Oberstar (D-MN) would amend the Clean Water Act by eliminating one word -- "navigable" -- and replacing it with the term "waters of the United States." The legislation would give the federal government authority over anything that is wet, as well as any activity on land that could affect water.

Bob Slocum, Executive Vice President of the North Carolina Forestry Association, said: "Everyone here supports good, sound environmental legislation. But the proposed bills are neither good nor sound. The proposed legislation represents an unprecedented power grab that will do much more to create confusion and invite litigation than to improve water quality."

The National Association of Counties says the legislation would apply to man-made ditches, culvers, gutters and pipes, as well as roads, curbs, and at times, sidewalks. A long-standing exemption from existing law for prior converted cropland and waste treatment systems would also be eliminated.

"Sen. Feingold and Congressman Oberstar call this legislation the Clean Water Restoration Act. Unfortunately, it's a great title for a terrible bill," said Steve Henson, President, Southern Appalachian Multiple Use Council. "It's less about restoring clean water, and more about expanding federal power."

According to Allen S. Gray, Utility Division Director for the Carolinas Associated General Contractors, "The Clean Water Restoration Act of 2007 would greatly expand federal control over local water and land use decisions by granting the federal government authority to regulate everywhere that rainwater happens to flow, however remote or infrequent. We are confident local and state governments have this matter well in hand and are much better suited to ensure protection of the Carolinas' environment. Moreover, if the bill were enacted, the increase in the number of permits required for construction work would delay or stop infrastructure projects that literally form the foundation of our nation's economy."

According to an analysis of the bill by the National Association of County Engineers, every local government in North Carolina will have to obtain permits from the Army Corps of Engineers before beginning routine activities, such as road maintenance. The Corps already has a backlog of 15,000 permits, and it takes years for the agency to process permit requests.

"This bill presumes increased government regulation equals good environmental policy," said Wooten. "We disagree. This bill should be scrapped because it is an unnecessary overreach."

Slocum added: "Does it make sense to expand the power of the overextended U.S. Army Corps of Engineers? The water bill should be defeated, before it unleashes a flood of negative consequences."

The North Carolina Farm Bureau Federation Inc. is a private, non-profit, grassroots organization that has been actively promoting farm and rural issues since 1936 through governmental relations, marketing, field representation, agricultural education, member services and other programs.

The North Carolina Forestry Association, the state's oldest conservation organization, was established in 1911. Today it is a private, nonprofit partnership of more than 4,000 forest managers, landowners, mill operators, loggers, furniture manufacturers, educators and others concerned about the long-term health and productivity of the state's forest resources and the industries they support. Its mission is to actively promote healthy, productive forests by supporting the efforts of landowners and forestry-related businesses and organizations who responsibly manage or use forests.

The Southern Appalachian Multiple Use Council was created in 1975 by a group of approximately 25 Southern Appalachian business people in the forest products industry of Western North Carolina. These individuals recognized the need for an organization to promote the wise stewardship of the region's forestlands to balance the increasing demands on them. Today, the organization still maintains a strong forest products industry membership along with many other companies, organizations and individuals who share the vision of forestland stewardship.

The Carolinas AGC is the largest construction trade association in the Carolinas and the nation's largest chapter of Associated General Contractors of America since 1920.

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