Local Officials Sue EPA, Other Federal Agencies for Clean Water Act Violations

Published September 1, 1999

Charging the federal government with violating numerous laws in the creation and implementation of the 1998 Clean Water Action Plan, the Wyoming Association of Conservation Districts (WACD) filed suit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and several other federal agencies on June 30.

The complaint charges that the Clean Water Action Plan violates the National Environmental Protection Act and other statutes, and offers “virtually no scientific, economic, political, or sociological evidence to support is basis for the mandates.”

“The Clean Water Action Plan is perhaps the strongest anti-agricultural document Washington has ever produced,” said J. Zane Walley of the Paragon Foundation, a nonprofit property rights organization in Alamogordo, New Mexico. “It puts all land uses in the entire United States under the inconsiderate thumb of a massive and overwhelming blanket of powerful federal agencies: the Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Department of Agriculture.”

The WACD is joined as a plaintiff in the suit by 34 other groups and individuals from 10 states.

Critics charge that President Clinton unlawfully circumvented Congress to advance the Clean Water Action Plan (CWAP), the brainchild of Vice President Al Gore. Gore’s plan, which contains 111 mandates identified as “key actions,” was introduced on February 19, 1998–the 25th anniversary of the Clean Water Act–and put into play without an executive order or public discussion.

CWAP provides that private land owners can be fined up to $25,000 for each day they are determined to be in violation of its guidelines, which call for the:

  • implementation of federal authority over nearly half the watersheds in America;
  • closure of 20,000 miles of road on public lands to commercial and recreational use, with 5,000 miles of road to be obliterated outright by the year 2002;
  • creation or restoration of almost 1 million acres of wetlands (100,000 acres a year by 2005);
  • acquisition of 2 million miles of conservation buffers along river corridors; and
  • restoration of 25,000 miles of stream corridors on public lands, including blockage of artificial drainage systems, removal or setback of artificial levees, and restoration of natural patterns of flood plain topography.

WACD initially shied away from taking legal action in response to the plan, which Executive Director Bobbie Frank says “violates at least five federal laws, two executive orders, and the Fifth Amendment.” But last December, the federal government withheld $900,000 that Congress had allocated to Wyoming under the Clean Water Act. The state’s conservation districts rely on that funding for stream restoration projects.

EPA withheld the funding in retaliation for WACD’s refusal to comply with an EPA directive that the states produce a “Unified Watershed Assessment.” EPA cited CWAP as the basis for its authority to demand the assessment and withhold federal funds if it wasn’t produced.

“Watersheds aren’t mentioned in the Clean Water Act,” said Frank. “The act discusses bodies of water, not watersheds, so we refused to categorize our watersheds or list them as impaired.” The WACD suit contends that forcing states to list and categorize watersheds is an unlawful expansion of EPA’s authority under the Clean Water Act.

Meanwhile, Congress continues to appropriate millions of dollars for the implementation of CWAP, even though it is not a law. Last year, $500 million was appropriated, and the administration is seeking $650 million this year. “It’s amazing to me the amount of money that’s going toward this,” Frank sighed. “They keep right on voting for the funding–and it’s not even a law.

“So that’s why we’re suing. I guess it’s up to us.”

For more information …

contact the Wyoming Association of Conservation Districts, 2404 East 13th Street, Cheyenne, WY 82007; phone 307/632-5716, email [email protected]. The Paragon Foundation offers a free monthly newsletter with regular updates on the CWAP litigation; write 1200 North White Sands Boulevard #115, Alamogordo, NM 88310; phone 505/434-8998, email