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Thom T.
Republican NC

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  • Department of Defense Appropriations Act, 2016—Motion to Proceed

    by Senator Thom Tillis

    Posted on 2015-11-04

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    TILLIS. Mr. President, I hate to sound like a broken record, but unfortunately that is the scenario the Obama administration and the minority leader have led me to today. When I sought this position as a Senator from North Carolina, I promised the voters back in my home State that I was going to come up here and fix problems, fix Washington, and get us back to work.

    Yesterday an attempt to rein in the President and the EPA failed. It failed along party lines. Today we had another chance to come together and help protect Americans from Washington's continual power grab, to ensure they are not subject to illegal Executive overreach, and to take control of a bloated bureaucracy. Today's effort passed but only by a slim margin. We must stand up to the President and to the Senate minority leader and their efforts to continue implementing policies that destroy our Nation's economy and in this case harm farmers and small businesses in a variety of ways.

    I want the voters to remember this day. I want them to remember who stood against the illegal expansion of Federal control over their land and their livelihood and remember those who did not. The waters of the United States--we have acronyms for everything, it is called WOTUS--is just another Washington power grab that has more to do with controlling your property than ensuring access to clean water.

    Leaders at the EPA claim that those who oppose WOTUS oppose clean [[Page S7755]] water. That seems like an absurd notion for anybody who is in this body. This is a completely false and elitist claim. I firmly believe that Members on both sides of the aisle can all agree we value clean water. I love nothing more than going out on Lake Norman back in my home State or spending time fly-fishing in the mountains of North Carolina or spending time on the rivers near our coast, but under this rule virtually every nook and cranny of the country would be subject to EPA control. There is a risk that puddles in our backyards and ditches and crop fields will be regulated in the same manner our States regulate--properly--our beautiful lakes and rivers.

    One thing is clear under the waters of the United States, WOTUS, there is no clarity. There is complete uncertainty and layer upon layer of bureaucratic redtape. Our landowners, our farmers, our ranchers, and business owners across the country will be subject to compliance costs, new fines, and the risk of litigation--all at the discretion of the Environmental Protection Agency.

    In March, the Senate agriculture committee held a hearing on the waters of the United States, inviting stakeholders to discuss their concerns. We were proud to have the secretary of the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources, who told us in regard to the rule: ``It's not absolutely clear what in the world it does say, other than providing the EPA with a lot of discretion when determining navigable waters.'' Navigable waters--not a ditch, not a depression that gets filled up when it rains but navigable waters. How on Earth are Members of this body, Senators, willing to allow such a horrible policy to plague our farmers, our businesses and, I might add, our cities and towns that on a bipartisan basis have expressed concern to me in my home State. It is clear to me the Obama administration did not consult with our State leaders, county leaders, and city leaders when choosing to redefine the rule. We are at a moment where we must prevent this policy, putting our landowners and job creators ahead of partisan politics.

    It is not my goal to focus simply on North Carolina in this speech. I know my colleagues from Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, North Dakota, a number of States have family and friends who will endure burdens if this bad policy stands.

    My State is a great example of just how detrimental this rule is to our farmers and to families in North Carolina. North Carolina has over 300 miles of coastline, 17 major river basins, and roughly 37,000 miles of freshwater streams--all places that North Carolina residents, farmers, and businesses call home. Much of the eastern part of the State, which runs along the Atlantic Ocean, is susceptible to flooding, even after the lightest rainfall.

    Earlier this week parts of the State were again hit hard with heavy rainfall, compounding the effects of last month's historic flooding associated with the hurricane. If the Environmental Protection Agency moves forward with waters of the United States, it will severely restrict the local government's ability to quickly react when we are recovering from events.

    Imagine this. Imagine a water event or a hurricane or a rain like we had in South Carolina, which dumps 1 foot or 2 feet of water on an area that has been cropland, cultivated, and harvested by farmers--let us say in North Carolina or South Carolina. This rule is going to make it almost impossible for that farmer to begin recovering immediately because of the uncertainty of the regulations that come with waters of the United States. Not only will they suffer the ravages of the storm, they will also suffer the ravages of this poorly thought-out policy overreach.

    The policy raises many questions. For example, is a flooded ditch considered a navigable water under waters of the United States? Many people believe it is. What about a crop field that just had 2 feet of rain? A standing pothole may actually be subject to waters of the United States, which puts a farmer in the position where they may get punitive measures imposed upon them by the EPA.

    Don't get me wrong. I am a firm believer in ensuring clean water. It is imperative to a flourishing agriculture industry and our local State and national economies. In North Carolina we have a thriving brewery industry out in the beautiful mountains of Asheville. They need access to abundant, clean water.

    In Eastern North Carolina, we have a thriving pharmaceutical industry. They need access to abundant, clean water. There are a variety of reasons why we have to make sure our water resources are clean and abundant.

    How can I tell our farmers that in ensuring clean water, we may fine them for small flood puddles such as the one shown here? We need fair practices that will help turn our economy around, not hinder the hard work of our farmers, our ranchers, and small businesses across this country. We need policies that will help families put food on their kitchen tables and not penalize our land and homeowners.

    Americans need clarity and they need fairness, not vague, ambiguous rules such as the WOTUS, waters of the United States, which undercut State authority, undercut local authority, and promote what I believe is an illegal government overreach.

    The Supreme Court has tried to rein in the EPA's misinterpretation of ``navigable water'' several times. Based on the result of our vote earlier today, the majority of this Chamber and the House believe the EPA has overreached--and the courts agree. Yet the President said he will veto the bipartisan resolution that just passed out of this Chamber today. This administration continues to disregard the will of the Congress, the warnings of the courts, and the preferences of the American people. How long will we continue to let the partisan Obama administration dictate our course of action in the Congress and for the country? We must stop this unfunded mandate and alleviate the burdens on our farmers and business owners, not punish them.

    If we do not stop the implementation of this egregious rule right now, we are setting a dangerous precedent and we are betraying the trust of many Americans. I urge my fellow colleagues today: Let us stay strong on this bill. Let us send a message to the President that he should sign this resolution into law and get back to healing this economy.

    Thank you.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER (Mr. Scott). The Senator from Missouri.

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