News Feature | April 3, 2014

Obama Administration Wants More Power Over Water

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

The Obama administration officially unveiled a long-awaited proposal to expand its authority to regulate water.

"Proposed by the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers, the draft waters of the U.S. rule is aimed at defining the scope of the Clean Water Act (CWA) after two Supreme Court decisions in the last 15 years led to confusion about which waterways were under federal protection," the Los Angeles Times reported, citing EPA administrator Gina McCarthy.

According to the government document, released in March, the proposal "would enhance protection for the nation’s public health and aquatic resources, and increase CWA program predictability and consistency by increasing clarity as to the scope of 'waters of the United States' protected under the Act."

Conservatives and industry players are skeptical of the proposed rule. Critics are describing it "as a government land grab," according to a Fox News report. "The proposal immediately sparked concerns that the regulatory power could extend into seasonal ponds, streams, and ditches, including those on private property."

"The...rule may be one of the most significant private property grabs in U.S. history," said Louisiana Sen. David Vitter, the top Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, in the Fox News report.

Bloomberg BNA reported: "All natural and artificial tributaries and wetlands that are adjacent to or near larger downstream waters would be subject to federal Clean Water Act protections." 

"The agencies also included an interpretive rule, immediately effective, that clarifies that the 53 specific conservation practices identified by the Agriculture Department's Natural Resources Conservation Service to protect or improve water quality won't be subject to dredge-and-fill permits under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act," the report said. 

One thing seems clear: This proposal will probably land the government in court. "The regulatory action might provoke legal challenges from several economic sectors—including the agriculture, construction and energy industries. Opponents say the rules could delay projects while permits are sought for dredging, filling, or drainage in more areas," the Wall Street Journal reported

But proponents of the rule said it's a no-brainer. "The rule simply clarifies the scope of jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act, ending years of confusion and restoring fundamental protections to waters that serve as the drinking supply for 117 million Americans," said Trip Van Noppen, president of Earthjustice, a nonprofit public-interest law group, in the New York Times

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