Clean Water Act is law; how agencies administer it is not

(Editor’s Note: Viewpoint submissions on this and other topics are always welcome as part of our goal to encourage community discussion and exchange of perspectives.)

I feel the Jan. 29 Letter to the Editor “Environmental ‘Protection’ or ‘Predation’ Agency” by Cris Reep needs some clarification.

As stated in his letter, the Clean Water Act is law. Congress makes law, but then an agency is designated to administer the law.

The agency creates The Code of Federal Regulations (CFRs) which are a  compilation of the general and permanent rules published in the Federal Register by the executive agencies of the federal government.

Each CFR volume is updated once a year and issued quarterly. These regulations are organized by subject area and assigned to one of 50 CFR Titles. Many  of the agencies that administer the CFRs are part of the Executive Branch of Government — in other words, the agency heads are appointed by the President. 

Therein lies a “political interest” if you will.

CFRs are not law. CFRs are updated annually. One must always give some credence to the “scope” of the agencies and the CFRs (rules) by which they administer the laws. 

Most often, agencies will go beyond the scope of their authority and the EPA is an agency that gets much scrutiny. Congress passes laws but fails to oversee the administration of the rules adopted by the President’s appointed administration head or director.

The EPA Code of Federal Regulation is represented as Title 40. It  presents regulations governing care of the environment from the 14 subchapters of Chapter I and from the provisions regarding the Council on Environmental Quality found in Chapter V.

Programs addressing air, water, pesticides, radiation protection and noise abatement are included. Practices for waste and toxic materials disposal and clean-up are also prescribed.

Additions and revisions to this section of the code are posted annually by July. Publication follows within six months (and they can be revised).

So, the bottom line is this: The Executive Branch of government has jurisdiction over certain agencies, and their department heads are a Presidentially appointed position. 

Therein lies the “politics” if you will.

The Clean Water Act (Congress) is Law; the CFRs are not. They are simply adopted agency rules.

So Cris  Reep asked the question: “Under what Constitutional provision is President Trump granted the power to make changes to, or in this case completely nullify, a law that has been in effect for 72 years?”

Answer: He can’t.

CFRs are not Law but agency rules — and the President has some executive power over many agencies and their rules, as long as they conform to the law.

Of course, we can all appreciate the “laws of the land” and why we have a Supreme Court trying to decide many of them.

And I can not recall when there was a unanimous Supreme Court ruling of our laws.

—Brian Cole



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