By SUZANNE DOWNING
At the end of December, in a holiday news dump, the Biden Administration suddenly announced it would return to the old Obama-era interpretation of “Waters of the United States” — which drops of water can be regulated by the federal government.
The ruling, published in the Federal Register in January, means the government will have oversight not only of waters on federal lands, but waters that might someday flow into any waters. In other words, if it’s any significant amount of water, the federal government can choose to regulate it under the Clean Water Act.
The ruling means that the less-than 1 percent of privately held land in Alaska, in addition to that private land held by Native corporations, will be subject to EPA permits for something as minor as building a 10×10 hunting cabin or even a fish-drying shack.
Alaskans are mystified that Democrat Rep. Mary Peltola, their only member in the U.S. House, voted to return to colonialism. The EPA rule takes away the rights of Native corporations to use their lands for the betterment of their shareholders – the Natives of Alaska who were deeded these lands under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971, which awarded Alaska Native corporations 45.5 million acres of land to create better economic conditions for Alaska’s indigenous people.
That’s not all the EPA rule does. A small neighborhood containment pond that occasionally slops over into a stormwater drain will come under EPA control, even if it’s on private land. Water that drains from rooftops and makes its way to that pond will be subject to at-whim permit requirements by the EPA. Golf course water hazards, already significantly regulated, would find themselves even further under the command of the Clean Water Act. A farm or ranch pond that occasionally overfills and spills over its swale will be subject to the Obama-era WOTUS interpretation.
It’s not theoretical. At the U.S. Supreme Court, a pending case from Idaho, Sackett vs. EPA, shows how just one American can be prevented from building a home if the federal government decides, as it did in 2008, that the property owner’s half-acre land was once upon a time a wetlands, until a road nearby changed the hydrology of the area. The case was the first to be heard by the court this session and a decision is expected within weeks.
Alaska’s Gov. Mike Dunleavy is not happy about the return to the Obama-era rule, and neither are two members of the Alaska delegation – Senators Dan Sullivan and Lisa Murkowski.
That is because Alaska, with its unique geographic and geologic characteristics, is disproportionately affected by the Obama-era EPA rule.
Alaska has a diverse climate, with some places getting less than five inches of rain per year, and other places getting 200 inches. Some land is permanently frozen, and other land, which drains into waterways, is suitable for farming. Alaska has more water – liquid and frozen – than all other states combined. It’s crisscrossed by 900,000 miles of navigable rivers and streams. The state has 22,000 square miles of lakes, 27,000 miles of coastline, and about 43% of the state is considered wetlands, compared to other states, which average 5%.
For Alaskans, this is a taking of the state’s land and the economy by the federal government. If it looks like colonialism, and walks like colonialism, it’s not going to be popular in the 49th state.
For these reasons, if the Biden Administration goes through with its expansion of federal authority over all ponds, streams, wetlands, and more – whether on federal, state, or private land – it will effectively finish off Alaska’s economy.
Alaska has struggled under the thumb of President Biden, who has made at least 45 executive orders shutting down various parts of the Alaska economy. The state is now near the bottom of the list for economic recovery from the Covid pandemic policies. The new WOTUS rule is the death blow.
Alaskans are disappointed that Rep. Mary Peltola, their only House member, voted to return to colonialism.
Peltola betrayed her state last week, putting partisan allegiance to Biden over the well-being of her fellow Alaskans.
Suzanne Downing is publisher of Must Read Alaska.