EPA Addresses Misinformation Surrounding Proposed “Waters of the U.S.” Rule
by July Tran, 7/7/2014
- The proposed rule is projected to provide $388 million to $514 million in benefits each year as a result of filtering pollution, providing wildlife habitat, reducing flooding, recharging groundwater, and supporting hunting and fishing.
- A lack of clarity about what waters are under the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act has prevented the protection of numerous bodies of water from dangerous pollutants.
UPDATE: House Committee Seeks to Drain EPA's Ability to Regulate Water Pollution
Update (07/17/2014): On July 16, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee passed a number of measures to limit the EPA's ability to regulate water pollution. These measures would entirely halt the agency's proposed "Waters of the U.S." rule and restrict the timeframe that the EPA has to veto pollution permits. Under the bills passed by the committee, individual states will have greater authority over water pollution permits.
Such a state-led system for managing permits has been called an attempted rewrite of the Clean Water Act and would encourage a "race to the bottom." States will relax their requirements to obtain water pollution permits in order to attract polluting industries. Our health and environment will suffer as states compete for the most minimal water quality protections.
These bills follow in the wake of the budget and riders passed by the House Appropriations Subcommittee for Interior, Environment and Related Agencies on July 9, which significantly cut EPA funding and remove the agency's authority to implement the proposed "Waters of the U.S." rule, in addition to imposing other restrictions on the agency. Continuing efforts to undermine the EPA's authority and inhibit its actions pose a threat to public health and environmental protection.
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In April, the EPA introduced a proposed rule that clarifies what bodies of water are “waters of the U.S.” covered by the Clean Water Act. The proposed rule is projected to provide $388 million to $514 million in benefits each year as a result of filtering pollution, providing wildlife habitat, reducing flooding, recharging groundwater, and supporting hunting and fishing. The costs are estimated at a smaller $162 million to $278 million a year. Opponents of the rule, ignoring the significant benefits the rule will deliver to the American people, have launched a misinformation campaign that is muddying the waters on this important issue.
The 1972 Clean Water Act established pollution control and permitting programs to preserve the quality of the “waters of the U.S.” and protect them from harmful pollutants. Wetlands, tributaries, and some ditches feed into large bodies of water to create a vast, interconnected water system. Ensuring the quality of these waters is crucial to protecting human health and the wildlife present in these areas. However, there has been recent confusion over which waters are “waters of the U.S.” protected under the Clean Water Act. Split rulings in U.S. Supreme Court cases in 2001 and 2006 added to that confusion.
A lack of clarity about what waters are under the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act has prevented the protection of numerous bodies of water from dangerous pollutants. For instance, a large animal feeding operation in Georgia discharged liquid manure into tributaries flowing into Lake Blackshear, an area frequently used for recreation. The cost and challenge of proving Clean Water Act authority over the tributaries delayed enforcement. As a result, harmful levels of viruses and bacteria were found in the lake, exposing water skiers, swimmers, and others to risks of illness and disease.
Lake Blackshear, Georgia
Opposition and Legislative Actions
Opponents of the proposed rule claim the EPA is expanding the definition of “waters of the U.S.,” not clarifying it, and they argue that the rule will result in increased fees, delays for farmers, and restrictions on local land use. The EPA recently addressed these misleading claims, pointing out that they are not true due to the exemptions for farming and other text in the rule.
Despite these facts, 30 Republican senators recently introduced a bill that prevents the EPA from finalizing the rule. Ten Republican senators also sent a letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy outlining their concerns.
EPA leaders are meeting with farmers and agricultural interest groups in an effort to further clarify the proposed rule and encourage formal comments.
The proposed rule is open for public comment until Oct. 20, 2014.
Image by flickr user Courtney McGough, used under a Creative Commons license