At his annual town meeting in Chestertown on Monday, Congressman Andy Harris (R-MD1) said environmental regulations were killing job growth, especially in the agricultural community of the Eastern Shore. He said he currently supports parts of a bill moving through the House that would limit EPA regulation of the Clean Water Act to “navigable waters” and steer the EPA away from regulating agriculture, which he said serves as the Shore’s biggest job creator.
“The Clean Water Act originally applied to navigable waters,” Harris said. “To me the common sense meaning of ‘navigable waters’ is I can put a boat in it and I can navigate it.”
The EPA has attempted to expand the definition of navigable waters since 2011 to include geological formations that eventually drain into tributaries and wetlands–under fierce opposition from Republican leaders in the House who say the Obama administration is avoiding the rule-making process by expanding EPA authority without congressional approval.
“The [EPA expansion] is any geologic formation that carries water for one day a year,” Harris said to a packed audience at the Kent Public Library. “So basically…if a farmer’s drainage ditch has water in it one day a year, it is now subject to the same means of regulation as the Mississippi River. That is a huge expansion of regulatory authority, because everybody’s back yard has water it in one day a year.”
He said in his conversations with job creators, “the regulatory environment in Washington is one of the main reasons why they find it difficult to create jobs,” He said. “The economy has to be our number one consideration.”
Harris said the economy needs to be “humming along” to produce the “spinoff revenue” to implement extension of the CWA and that businesses must first be able to absorb the costs of the new regulations. He left the door open to revisit the issue of expanding CWA regulations in five or ten years when the economy has recovered.
“Without an economy that is working, I just don’t think it works,” he said. “Extending the definition of the CWA to include [other than navigable waters] is going to impair job formation right now.”
Chester River Association Policy Specialist Isabel Junking took exception with Harris on the issue job creation and said the cost of “dirty water” in Kent County could be an impediment to job growth and a detriment to a local economy that depends on clean water. She told Harris that Congress needed strong leadership to help implement Water Implementation Plans that are currently being devised in Maryland to reduce nutrient pollution into the Bay.
She asked for Harris’s support.
Harris answered Junkin’s in typical fashion, with another question.
“You have to tell me acutely how we’re going to pay for it, and whether it is worth borrowing a dollar from China to pay for it?” he asked. He said he was against borrowing money from China that will have to be repaid by our children and grandchildren.
The video exchange is about four minutes.