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Republicans Set Phoenix Hearing on EPA 'Water Grab'

Gosar is one of several congressmen calling new EPA rules a "water grab." (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The Obama administration's move to expand regulatory control over the nation's rivers and streams has some Republicans from the Southwest boiling mad, with a group of conservatives calling the EPA proposal a "water grab."  

Arizona Republicans David Schweikert, Paul Gosar and Matt Salmon, along with Texas Republican Lamar Smith, have set a hearing Monday in Phoenix to discuss the new rules, which critics contend would extend federal authority to small creeks, ditches and even dry washes on private land.  

The Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers have said the proposed changes to the Clean Water Act, announced March 25 , are needed, in the wake of recent Supreme Court rulings, to clarify the definition of waterways that meet the standards for federal jurisdiction.  

The new guidance would apply Clean Water Act laws to rain-dependent streams, wetlands near rivers and other areas with a “hydrologic” connection, and is designed to protect water quality and slow the destruction of the country’s wetlands.  

Environmentalists have lauded the proposal, which is subject to public comment through mid-July, but Gosar and other Republicans have said the EPA is overreaching. " The EPA has no legal authority to expand the definition of navigable waters under the Clean Water Act, as the Supreme Court has repeatedly made clear," Gosar said in a statement earlier this month. "Only Congress has such authority." Skeptical Arizona ranchers and farmers have said the new EPA rules could be interpreted to apply to any private land where water runs downhill.  

“Daily ranching activities like grazing cattle, plowing a field, applying fertilizer or managing weeds would now require a permit,” wrote rancher Stefanie Smallhouse, first vice president of the Arizona Farm Bureau, in a recent op-ed. “This permitting frequently takes up to two years to obtain; someone sitting at a desk far, far away would decide whether tilling my farmland is a threat to the water quality of a dry river within the 100-year floodplain.  

Monday's hearing, titled "The EPA’s Unauthorized Usurpation of State and Tribal Water Rights: Cleaning up the Clean Water Act" will be held at the state Capitol in Phoenix.  

The Supreme Court in 2006 ruled the definition of “navigable waters” could not be limitless , and former President George W. Bush twice acted to limit the scope of the Clean Water Act, but environmentalists have urged the White House to further expand the types of waters subject to the law.  

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and Secretary of the Army John McHugh, who oversees the Army Corps of Engineers, have both been invited to testify at the Phoenix hearing, and Republicans are almost certain to contest the EPA claim that the new definition will not impact farm operations.  

The hearing comes as federal agencies face increasing opposition in western states from activists and libertarian-leaning conservatives who see the Obama administration's enforcements efforts as infringements on property and personal rights.  

The Bureau of Land Management backed down last month after an armed confrontation with Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy over grazing fees and access to federal land.  

Correction:  An earlier version of this report misidentified Gosar's hometown.