Weekly Columns

I use the word “certainty” a lot when discussing economic issues. That’s because the most important thing Washington can do to help our economy grow is promote policies that allow our job creators to make decisions with certainty.

I learned this lesson well before I arrived in Washington. Fresh out of optometry school, I joined with my brother to start a family business that would ultimately become a major provider of eye care in northwest Arkansas. It quickly became apparent to us that when you make decisions as a business owner, you have to do so with a reasonable amount of confidence in what the outcome will be.

As a member of the U.S. Senate, I use that experience to guide my policymaking decisions. Making assessments through this lens helps foster an economic environment that allows job creators to understand the short- and long-term effects of Washington’s policies.

Any small business owner, manufacturer, farmer or rancher will tell you they can play by good rules or bad rules, but can’t play without knowing the rules. When regulations raise more questions than answers, ambiguity clouds the decision-making process and often paralyzes it. This was certainly the fatal flaw of the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule.

WOTUS put forward a nebulous, far-reaching definition of what bodies of water the federal government had jurisdiction over. To say that it created uncertainty and confusion for property owners—particularly farmers, ranchers and others in the agricultural community—would be an understatement.

A month after taking office, President Trump ordered a review of the WOTUS rule. As a result, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently announced the Navigable Waters Protection rule as a replacement to WOTUS. 

The new rule clearly defines the difference between federally protected and state protected wetlands by creating four clear categories of waters that are federally regulated under the Clean Water Act. It details what waters are not subject to federal control (i.e. farm watering ponds) and defines the proper relationship between the federal government and states in managing land and water resources.

Ensuring clean water in America absolutely must be a priority for Washington. While federal agencies are essential to administering that effort, the law was never meant to be written through the regulatory process.  

Regulations that protect consumers, borrowers and the environment improve the quality of life for all Americans. We grant the government the ability to make these regulations; but in doing so, we entrust the government to make sensible rules that do not encroach on our freedoms. Likewise, we expect regulators to consider the economic impact of any proposal. Overbearing, excessive regulations hurt, rather than help, efforts to achieve desired outcomes.

Our founders never envisioned the massive bureaucratic state we have in place in modern America. Too often, the executive branch employs a heavy-handed approach or outright ignores the intent of Congress. In some cases, Congress leaves too many open-ended questions to be answered by bureaucrats.

The way to avoid another WOTUS-like debacle is clear. The legislative branch needs to reassert its ownership over lawmaking. The executive branch needs to work with Congress to achieve desired outcomes, rather than around us, and bureaucrats need to administer the laws as written, not make attempt to make them.