West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey visited Pocahontas County Friday for a Town Hall meeting, hosted by the Pocahontas County Farm Bureau, which focused on the Waters of United States Rule. During his visit, Morrisey also met with members of the Pocahontas County Chamber of Commerce, Marlinton mayor Sam Felton and other members of the community.
Morrisey said he and his office are very pleased with the recent ruling concerning the Waters of United States Rule, a rule in which the EPA was attempting to change the definition of federal regulated waterways.
“We get involved if we think the federal government oversteps its bounds,” he said. “We don’t hesitate to sue. That was what we did with the Waters of United States Rule because a lot of people have weighed in and asked us to focus on the waters rule. A lot of farmers were deeply concerned about that.”
Morrisey explained that the EPA has the right to regulate “navigable” waters in the United States and the new rule was trying to change the definition of “navigable” to include small streams and creeks.
“Historically, people thought of navigable waters as the Mississippi, the Ohio, the Potomac, large bodies of water that run through states,” he said. “Over a period of time, based upon case law, the definition of navigable water seemed to expand quite a bit.”
There have been several cases over the years involved with the question of how far the federal government is allowed to regulate navigable waters and recently, the Attorney General’s office joined with Attorney Generals from other states to sue the EPA to stop the rule from becoming law.
“The concern had been that you were taking areas that were historically regulated under local and state authorities and you were shifting them over to the federal government,” Morrisey said. “There were estimates that that expanded the federal government’s jurisdiction in this area by three-to-five percent. In addition, there was concern that there was really no way to know if you were doing work on a federally regulated part of a navigable waterway.
“That’s critically important because if you do any work in an area that now may be subject to the federal definition, then you would have to get a Clean Water Act permit,” he continued. “That’s part of what people are concerned about.”
If an individual is doing work near a controlled waterway and does not have a permit, he/she is subject to penalties of up to $37,500 a day.
“It was a real concern that the heavy hand of government was stepping in,” Morrisey said. “We care passionately about clean water and clean air but you want to make sure that you’re doing things in a sensible matter and usually when you get a distant bureaucracy that doesn’t even identify all the specific properties that may be subject to it, that’s a real issue.”
Just recently, the Sixth Circuit in Cincinnati, Ohio, ruled that it did not want the rule to go into effect. Usually, although a court rules against the EPA, the rule in question still goes into effect. With this recent ruling, it is possible the rule will not go into effect.
“In this case, we thought there were real problems and, obviously, the Sixth Circuit agreed,” Morrisey said. “We have a stay of the national Waters of United States Rule now. That’s a pretty big deal. We were one of the leaders, nationally, pushing back against the EPA, and it’s nice to get a win on an issue that a lot of people in this area care a lot about.”
Morrisey also discussed issues his office is constantly working on for the people of West Virginia. The Attorney General’s office is proactive in warning and protecting people from consumer scams.
“We’re always looking for ways to educate people on those issues,” he said. “We try to get it out, local scam alerts. They’re really helpful because, for instance, this week, our office phones were blowing up because there was a scam alert from credit card services and they were sometimes calling people twenty, thirty, forty times, putting huge pressure on them to get people to transfer their bank account information or to provide credit card information, or social security information.
“We have to say, ‘no, no, no, these are scams because a legitimate company cannot just harass you like that,”’ he continued. “We always try to get the word out on things like that.”
The office is also working on programs to fight substance abuse in West Virginia.
“We’re trying to make slow but sure progress there,” he said. “Really working to try and collaborate with as many of the law enforcement officials in the state as possible so we can avoid duplication because we know we have a lot of needs in terms of clinics and a lot of other issues, so it’s important to know exactly how many dollars are spent on what, so we can make sure the dollars getting duplicated are getting a course change so we don’t have waste in the system.”
Morrisey answered questions from community members and explained the duties of the Attorney General’s office.
“One of the things that people didn’t always appreciate about the office is that we have a lot to do, a lot of positive things to do with economic development,” he said. “We can issue legal opinions that clarify the law. We can file lawsuits, conduct investigations and be a voice for having a responsible climate that’s going to foster job growth in West Virginia.”
For more information about the Attorney General’s office, visit www.wvago.gov or contact the office at 304-558-2021.