EPA proposes Clean Water Act changes
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers jointly released a proposed rule March 25 to clarify protection under the Clean Water Act for streams and wetlands that form the foundation of the nation’s water resources.
This rulemaking comes after a decade of uncertainty over the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act, following Supreme Court challenges in 2001 and 2006.
For nearly a decade, members of Congress, state and local officials, industry, agriculture, environmental groups, and the public asked for a rulemaking to provide clarity.
The new rule, which will be published in the Federal Register and available for public comment, would restore Clean Water Act protection to 20 million acres of wetlands and more than half the nation’s streams, restoring protections to drinking water for 117 million Americans.
“By providing clarity on what constitutes protected Waters of the United States, the EPA has an opportunity to ensure that the rule will provide greater opportunities for farmers and ranchers to partner with USDA’s [U.S. Department of Agriculture] Natural Resource Conservation Service conservation programs to better utilize sustainable agriculture practices to enhance water quality,” said John Crabtree of the Center for Rural Affairs. “And the rule can help reduce some of the economic burden currently faced by many small towns in improving drinking water quality.”
The proposed rule clarifies protection for streams and wetlands. The proposed definitions of waters will apply to all Clean Water Act programs. It does not protect any new types of waters that have not historically been covered under the Clean Water Act and is consistent with the Supreme Court’s more narrow reading of Clean Water Act jurisdiction.
While the 370-page proposed rule preserves the Clean Water Act, the rule includes exemptions and exclusions for agriculture. The American Farm Bureau Federation states otherwise.
“The EPA proposal poses a serious threat to farmers, ranchers, and other landowners. Under EPA’s proposed new rule, waters -- even ditches -- are regulated even if they are miles from the nearest ‘navigable’ waters. Indeed, so-called ‘waters’ are regulated even if they aren’t wet most of the time,” said American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman.
“Under this proposed rule, farmers, ranchers, and every other landowner across the countryside will face a tremendous new roadblock to ordinary land-use activities. This is not just about the paperwork of getting a permit to farm, or even about having farming practices regulated. ...
“ ...They do not protect farmers from federal veto power over pest and weed control, fertilizer application, and other essential farming activities that may result in the addition of ‘pollutants’ to ‘navigable waters’ -- providing one views every ditch and wet spot across the landscape as ‘navigable waters.’”
The Farm Bureau announced it will continue to oppose any attempt to change the definition of “navigable waters” to include all waters.
For more information, visit www.epa.gov/uswaters.
Sources: March 25 Environmental Protection Agency press release; March 25 Center for Rural Affairs press release; and April 1 American Farm Bureau Federation statement