By Sara Jerome,
Water policy has become a rallying point for conservatives in Congress this year.
The right is backing legislation known as the Defense of Environment and Property Act. The bill aims to cut back the federal government's authority to regulate wetlands.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-KY, who introduced the bill in his chamber, said the legislation would rein in the EPA.
"This bill will restore common sense to federal jurisdiction over navigable waters, and place reasonable limitations on an agency that has become dangerously out of control," he said in a statement.
FreedomWorks, a conservative group that supports the legislation, explained the bill's approach: The legislation "would redefine 'navigable waters' to explicitly clarify that waters must actually be navigable, exclude intermittent streams from federal jurisdiction and restrain the EPA and the Army Corps from regulating the definition of navigable waters without Congressional authorization."
The effort comes on the heels of an EPA proposal to expand the definition of waters it regulates.
According to the EPA, recent Supreme Court decisions have created some uncertainty about what the agency can regulate. Last year, it released a report on this issue titled "Connectivity of Streams and Wetlands to Downstream Waters: A Review and Synthesis of the Scientific Evidence."
The GOP legislation has drawn criticism from various environmentalists and legal experts. Dan Farber, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley, weighed in on his university's blog.
"The bill would drastically cut back on federal protection for wetlands, small streams, and rivers in the Western United States. But its stealth provisions are even worse. They would make it hard for the EPA to exercise even its remaining jurisdiction and would make it much harder to enforce the law against polluters," Farber wrote.
American Rivers, a non-profit environmental group, explained what it saw as drawbacks of the bill: "It forces the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers to get specific permission from states before doing anything to control pollution or protect land and water resources – essentially disrupting the careful balance of state and federal responsibility for land and water management."
According to Paul, the National Mining Association supports his bill.
For more on political news, check out Water Online's Regulations & Legislation Solution Center.
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