Editorial: WOTUS rule change restores federalism

The usual suspects in the self-styled environmental groups predictably collapsed into palpitating conniptions this past week when the Trump administration announced its final rule rolling back the Obama-era rule that overreachingly defined the waters of the United States (WOTUS) covered by the Clean Water Act of 1972 as every stream, ditch, wetland or muddy hoof print that might ever eventually spill a few drops of water into any rivulet.

Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity, wailed, “This sickening gift to polluters will allow wetlands, streams and rivers across a vast stretch of America to be obliterated with pollution. People and wildlife need clean water to thrive. Destroying half of our nation’s streams and wetlands will be one of Trump’s ugliest legacies. We’ll absolutely be fighting it in court.”

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Democratic candidate for president, fired off a Twitter rant, “Government works great for giant corporations that want to dump chemicals & toxic waste into streams & wetlands. It’s just not working for families that want to be able to drink water without being poisoned. This is corruption, plain and simple.”

But Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler, while announcing the rule change at a conference of the National Association of Home Builders in Las Vegas, pointed out, “All states have their own protections for waters within their borders, and many regulate more broadly than the federal government. … Our new rule recognizes this relationship and strikes the proper balance between Washington, D.C., and the states. And it clearly details which waters are subject to federal control under the Clean Water Act and, importantly, which waters falls solely under the states’ jurisdiction.”

The new rule — prepared by the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers — is to take effect in 60 days, though litigation challenging it is a certainty.

The Obama administration’s 2015 definition of WOTUS covered about half of the nation’s wetlands and many streams that flowed only after heavy rainfall and required farmers and developers to seek expensive and time-consuming permits before turning so much as a shovel of dirt.

The Clean Water Act made it unlawful to discharge any pollutant that could eventually reach navigable waters unless a permit was first obtained. The 2015 WOTUS definition, for example, barred a Minnesota company from mining peat on a wetland 120 miles from the Red River.

Nevada and a dozen other states in 2015 obtained an injunction from a federal judge blocking enforcement of the sweeping WOTUS rule. Then-Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt said of the injunction, “This important order, at a minimum, delays implementation of an unwise, unjustifiable and burdensome rule, and protects Nevada’s landowners, farmers and developers from job losses and increased energy prices, until the final rule can be comprehensively fought in court.” The EPA decided the injunction applied only to those 13 states.

The rule change has been in the works since shortly after President Trump took office.

In a speech to the American Farm Bureau two weeks ago Trump talked about the rule change, saying, “And, today, I’m proud to announce that I am taking yet another step to protect the water rights of American farmers and ranchers. Under the previous administration, the Army Corps of Engineers proposed a new Water Supply rule that would give the federal government vast and unlimited power to restrict farmers’ access to water. That’s not a good thing. Is anybody happy with being restricted to water if you have a farm? Please stand up if you are happy about that. Because this authority rightfully belongs to the states, not the bureaucrats in Washington, D.C.”

The nation’s waters are not being turned over to corporations for dumping chemicals and toxins. The power to regulate and protect the water is simply being returned to the states, which under the principles of federalism, is where they rightfully belong.

In fact, Trump’s executive order of February 2017 that started the rule change process is titled: “Presidential Executive Order on Restoring the Rule of Law, Federalism, and Economic Growth by Reviewing the ‘Waters of the United States’ Rule.”

A version of this editorial appeared this week in some of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel,  Sparks Tribune and the Lincoln County Record.

Assembly bill would dilute the voting power of Nevadans

There is a bill pending in the Legislature that would — and we are not making this up — dilute the voting power of every Nevadan in presidential elections.

A passel of Democrats have hatched Assembly Bill 274 that would rope Nevada into the conspiracy to subvert the Constitution and deny the wisdom of the Founders by joining an “Agreement Among the States to Elect the President by National Popular Vote.” The change would take place when enough states join to constitute a majority of electoral votes.

The bill is to go before the Assembly Committee on Legislative Operations and Elections at 1:30 p.m. today.

Currently the president and vice president team that wins the majority of votes in Nevada gets the state’s six electoral votes, one for each representative and senator in Congress. AB274 would have those six votes go to whoever wins the national popular vote. This essentially cuts Nevada’s votes from six to four, since the votes nationwide would be proportional to population and exclude the power of our two senators.

Why would any sane person want to do that and let California and New York elect every president?

Yes, Hillary Clinton won more popular votes than Donald Trump, but he won more state electors, which is what the Founders envisioned, because ours is a federalist system, not a democracy. The Electoral College provides more power to the states. (Trump won the Electoral College vote by 304 to 227. Clinton won the popular vote by 2.9 million. She won California by 4 million votes. So Trump won the combined popular vote in the 49 other states. What about that California secession movement?)

Former Nevada Sen. Harry Reid has joined the fray, calling the Electoral College undemocratic.

“I believe that focusing on the Electoral College is important no matter how you do it, because what’s happened this decade, these last several elections, where we have clearly two elections, the Gore election and this election. In this election Hillary Clinton will wind up getting almost 3 million votes more than Trump. It’s time the system goes away. It is very undemocratic,” Reid said in an interview. “And we have a number of states that have taken care of this. It doesn’t have to be done with a constitutional amendment. And I think people should join together and get rid of this. It is unfair that presidential elections are focused on seven states. It’s wrong.”

Pay no attention to the fact Reid served in the Senate for 30 years, where each state gets two votes no matter the size of its population. Most undemocratic.



Everybody likes free money … it is free, isn’t it?

The two newspaper items landed with superb timing.

And it must follow, as the night the day, as the dullard the wise.

On Christmas Day, James L. Buckley, a retired federal judge and former U.S. senator, writes an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal about the wasteful growth in unconstitutional federal grants-in-aid programs, followed two days later by a banner story in the Las Vegas newspaper about a bid to obtain federal grant funds through a White House urban planning program to turn Cashman Field into some sort of drone aircraft center. The story contains an alphabet soup of acronyms for various doling agencies and supplicant groups.

The newspaper uncritically and matter-of-factly recounts various efforts to capture federal grants of as little as $10,000 — an amount that probably absorbed a matching amount of cost in man-hours by overpaid bureaucrats at various levels.

Buckley notes that such grant programs have grown from about $24 billion in 1970 to an estimated $640 billion in 2015, a sixth of federal spending, and that is just the direct cost and does not take into account the paper shuffling involved.

Buckley describes the problem with these grant programs:

“Because the grants come with detailed federal directives, they deprive state and local officials of the flexibility to meet their own responsibilities in the most effective ways, and undermine their citizens’ ability to ensure that their taxes will be used to meet their priorities rather than those of distant federal regulators. The irony is that the money the states and local governments receive from Washington is derived either from federal taxes paid by residents of the states or from the sale of bonds that their children will have to redeem.”

Never mind that nowhere in the Constitution are such programs enumerated or vaguely contemplated. But the courts have shrugged and allowed Congress to “induce the States to adopt policies that the Federal Government itself could not impose.” Carrot, OK. Stick, nay.

Congress and the administration can bribe state and local governments to build drone centers that should be the purview of private enterprise and which those state and local governments would never build without the free money from Washington.

In still another sign that federalism is dead, federal transfer payments now make up 30 percent of the states’ revenues, Buckley relates. It will be hard to wean the states from this teat.

But almost nobody in local government or the media ever thinks to stop and ask: Is it worth it?

Cashman Field targeted for federal grant money. (R-J photo)