Proposed Federal Water Regulations Criticized As 'Power Grab'
By Sara Jerome
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed new rules this week about which bodies of water it can regulate under the Clean Water Act.
The agency released the draft rule along with a report on this issue titled "Connectivity of Streams and Wetlands to Downstream Waters: A Review and Synthesis of the Scientific Evidence."
According to the EPA, recent Supreme Court decisions have created some uncertainty about what the agency can regulate.
"In particular, the confusion centers on questions surrounding small streams and wetlands—some of which only flow after precipitation or dry up during parts of the year—and what role they play in the health of larger water bodies nearby or downstream," an EPA official said in a blog post.
The All Green To Me blog at The News Journal summarized the confusion: "Large areas of the...nation are wet, but disputes rage on over the connections between some freshwater wetlands and ponds and the officially designated waterways protected by the Clean Water Act."
The EPA report argues that streams, no matter the size, wetlands, and open-waters in floodplains have a major impact on downstream waters such as rivers, lakes, estuaries, and oceans. Some observers, including environmentalists, say it amounts to grounds that the EPA should have the authority to regulate those smaller waters.
It is not the first time the EPA has tried to make these changes. The agency had "previously prepared guidance on which waters were covered by the federal law, but that effort had languished under review at the White House since 2011," The Hill reported.
EPA officials say greater regulatory certainty is necessary because it would "reduce costs and minimize delays in the permitting process and protect waters that are vital to public health, the environment and economy," Bloomberg/BNA reported.
The rule would touch on various important industry issues. For instance, it "would indicate when dredge-and-fill activities as well as discharges of pollutants would be subject to Clean Water Act protections," Bloomberg BNA said.
Republicans in Congress pushed back on the EPA effort, according to The Hill.
"The EPA wants to use this study to justify a massive regulatory power grab under the Clean Water Act,” said Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, in a statement.
The draft regulations have a long way to go before they hit the books, and at this point they are still under governmental review.
For more on the EPA during the Obama administration, check out previous coverage from Water Online here.
Image credit: "Stream Debris," © 2006 Chris M Morris tallahassee., used under an Attribution 2.0 Genericlicense: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en