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WOTUS Hearing Sees Emotional Exchange Over Water Rights

Tempers boiled over at the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee as Oklahoma Republican Markwayne Mullin confronted Clemson environmental scientist Marzeika Sulliván over his definition of a Water of the U.S.

“My definition is that Waters of the U.S.…” Mullin: “…are all tied together…that’s basically what you’re saying, isn’t it?” Sulliván: “My def…from a scientific perspective, waters are tied together.” Mullin “So all waters belong to the U.S., so there are no private water rights…so all this land rights that we’ve been fighting for, farmers have been fighting for, tribes have been fighting for, actually, it doesn’t exist, because under your definition, it all belongs to the United States, and we should all ask permission to the United States before we can even water our cows in a pond.”

Mullin accused Sulliván of giving his opinion of what’s a U.S. water after Sulliván recounted an exchange with the late Cherokee Nation leader Wilma Mankiller on protecting past and future generations. Mullin said, “You bring up Wilma Mankiller and talk about seven generations there, and you bring up a lot of interesting points, but you forget one thing that tribes have been fighting forever to get the government out of the way. We don’t need more government involvement. In fact, that’s what led us to Oklahoma to begin with.”

Sulliván, who filed a friend of the court brief supporting the EPA position in Sackett vs. EPA, finally got to answer. He said, “The work I’m presenting today, and part of my written testimony, is with tribal partners who wrote these papers, and we’re working together. The position that I have here is as a scientist, understanding how these waters are connected, and how alternations of that connectivity can impact waters on tribal lands.”

But Sulliván would not answer Mullin if he was concerned about federal overreach impacting water rights—the emotional issue at the heart of the decades-long WOTUS dispute, and one that won’t end soon.

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