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It’s safe to say all Montanans enjoy our lakes, rivers and streams and wish to ensure that they remain healthy for years to come. No group values our water more than Montana’s agriculture producers. They’re the primary stewards of our water and their conservation efforts benefit all Montanans.

That could all change, however, if the EPA gets their way. Their newly proposed “Waters of the United States” rule would flip our water conservation model, ultimately turning what landowners now consider an asset into a huge liability. History has shown when that happens, our environment pays the price.

Let’s be clear on what this rule is about. It’s an attempt to expand the power of the federal bureaucracy to control what happens on private land. This rule is not about protecting water resources—in fact it would have the opposite effect. But the outcome for the environment doesn’t matter for supporters of this rule, they just want more control.

Simply put, this rule represents one of the largest expansions of federal authority over private property in our nation’s history. And it’s being done unilaterally by the administration, without Congressional approval.

The rule is riddled with arbitrary and ambiguous language outlining authority to regulate “bodies of water”. The ambiguity is intentional. It’s intended to give wide latitude to the EPA to exert their control over things that most of us would not consider “bodies of water” at all, like mud puddles after a rainstorm.

If implemented, the EPA’s “Waters of the United Sates” rule would establish federal oversight for all sorts of activities considered commonplace. Imagine a world where a Montana rancher needs permission from a bureaucrat in Washington D.C. on where she can build a fence or in which pastures she can graze her cattle—on her own private land!

Don’t underestimate the enormous blow this EPA power grab would have on Montana’s economy. Agriculture is by far Montana’s most important industry—and our ag producers are squarely in the crosshairs of this rule.

No one is calling to end pollution protections on major bodies of water—the Clean Water Act already protects those. But protecting our water is not what the EPA’s “Waters of the United States” rule is about—it’s really about exerting a new and profound level of control over private property.

Under this rule, the EPA wouldn’t treat landowners as partners in conservation. They’d treat every landowner as a suspect in a crime.

The best conservation of our resources occurs when owners of the resource have an incentive to conserve it. Under the Waters of the United States rule, that incentive would disappear and be replaced by a huge liability, namely an open invitation to have federal bureaucrats dictate what happens on your property.

I think we can all agree that we must ensure that our water is safe to use and enjoy. But this rule isn’t about protecting water, it’s about control. And the dozens of nice-sounding, kumbaya opinions written in papers across Montana promoting this rule as such are just ugly smoke screens attempting to disguise the truth.

If the EPA really wants to enhance public and environmental health in the U.S., they will stop trying to obfuscate the debate with lengthy, ambiguous proposals that spark more litigation, and they will sit down with stakeholders to find a real solution. That is the only way that we can ensure that our public policies promote a healthy environment while protecting private property rights.