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Op-ed: EPA overreaches in Chesapeake, and Utahns should worry

By Becca Ferry

First Published Mar 29 2014 01:01 am • Last Updated Mar 29 2014 01:01 am

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has claimed the right to control local land use and community development decisions under the guise of implementing the federal Clean Water Act, and our attorney general is doing something about it.

Along with 20 other state attorneys general, Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes signed a friend of the court or "amicus" brief to protect Utah from EPA mandates like the one now facing communities across the 64,000-square-mile Chesapeake Bay watershed.

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Although the current court case concerning the mid-Atlantic region could seem like a world away from the water issues here in Utah, the legal issue at stake is national in scope — whether the Clean Water Act gives EPA the power to decide which lands can and cannot be farmed, where homes can or cannot be built, and where schools, hospitals, roads and communities can or cannot be developed.

A lawsuit by the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Association of Home Builders and other groups asserts that state and local governments — not the federal government — have the right and responsibility to make these choices. Last month those groups asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit to reverse a September 2013 lower court decision that upheld EPA’s claim to that power.

Reyes and the other attorneys general who are challenging the EPA have recognized that the issue at stake will have dramatic consequences for states and communities nationwide. The legal authority asserted by EPA would give the federal government the power to dictate or veto local land-use and development decisions with no regard for local economic or social impact. No matter how dire the consequences for the people, businesses and communities affected, EPA’s mandates must be met, on EPA’s timeline.

States are denied the flexibility to make their own choices to improve water quality while allowing local businesses and communities to thrive. Utah’s attorney general has gone on record to defend the states’ rights to make these hard choices without federal mandates and micromanagement.

My husband and I farm and ranch in Box Elder County. We raise cattle and grow corn, wheat and alfalfa. We also manage thousands of acres of wetlands for the benefit of migrating waterfowl and shorebirds. We border the north shore of the Great Salt Lake and make water conservation a priority. We work with the EPA in our farming practices and conservation efforts to enhance and protect our wetlands. We feel that expanding the authority for the EPA will increase regulation and create an undue burden that will limit our efforts to continue to improve our land.

Despite unfounded rhetoric from critics, the lawsuit is not about stopping work to restore the Chesapeake Bay — and the support of 21 state attorneys general is not about politics. It’s about preserving the vitally important balance of federal and state powers established under the federal Clean Water Act so that the citizens and taxpayers of Utah won’t one day look back and wonder who gave EPA the right to shut down local farming and development.

Congress specifically left local land-use and development decisions to state and local authorities, not EPA, because state and local officials are accountable to their citizens. EPA is not. Reyes should be applauded for standing up for Utah’s power to protect its citizens and make the hard choices that environmental protection often requires.

Becca Ferry is a rancher and farmer in Box Elder County.

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