On March 24, the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers proposed a rule to clarify “waters of the United States” under the Clean Water Act. According to the Clean Water Act, “waters of the US” are subject to regulation, which means that, among other things, point source polluters must obtain a permit prior to discharge, and that the water body is subject to water quality standards and the measures required to attain them. It has always been clear that navigable waters are protected under the Clean Water Act, but the regulation of “other waters” such as adjacent wetlands and tributaries to navigable waters has been more ambiguous, especially in light of two Supreme Court cases, one in 2001 (SWANCC) and one in 2006 (Rapanos). The intent of the rule is to integrate the science of hydrological connectivity and more carefully delineate which “other waters” should be categorically covered by the Clean Water Act. Under the rule, there remain some “other waters” that would still require a case-specific determination to decide whether or not they are protected by the Clean Water Act.
Though this proposed rule does not regulate any historically unprotected waters, it does expand regulation slightly beyond the current practice. However, it would streamline the regulatory process for many water bodies currently considered on a case-by-case basis. Furthermore, by bringing certain wetlands and intermittent streams under protection because they influence downstream water bodies, the proposed rule respects the interconnectedness of water systems. Regardless, it has received extreme pushback. The Farm Bureau, for example, has led a misinformation campaign with the hashtag #DitchTheRule; we would prefer that you did some research to #DitchTheMyth instead.
As a result of this pushback, the EPA has extended the public comment period on this rule until October 20, 2014. Now it’s more important than ever to enter your own comment in support of protecting one of our precious natural resources. Comment either through the EPA’s site, or by filling out this form with Clean Water Action. Contacting your federal legislators is also critical, as opponents to the rule have been sticking “dirty water amendments and riders” into bills at the Capitol.
Other resources and sources of information include:
Jon Devine, Senior Attorney for the Natural Resource Defense Council Water Program, is an articulate speaker on the issue.
And a number of articles and blog posts throughout the web:
- “House Committee Seeks to Drain EPA’s Ability to Regulate Water Pollution” from the Center for Effective Government
- “Water is Life: Supporting the Clean Water Act” from Rachel’s Network
And for the policy geeks out there, an in-depth report that looks at the Clean Water Act
- EPA and the Army Corps’ Proposed Rule to Define “Waters of the United States”, a very careful and thorough explanation of this rule and its implications