EPA and Army Corps announce water protection rule
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Army Corps) yesterday jointly released a proposed new rule to clarify protection or enforcement of the Clean Water Act (CWA) for streams and wetlands.
“The proposed rule will benefit businesses by increasing efficiency in determining coverage of the Clean Water Act. The agencies are launching a robust outreach effort that will extend more than 90 days, holding discussions around the country and gathering input needed to shape a final rule,” the announcement explained.
Once the proposed rule is published in the Federal Registry, comments will be accepted for 90 days. It is common for publication in the Federal Registry to take a few weeks, but comments are already being taken to the rule as it has been posted on the EPA and the Army Corps websites.
The EPA and Army Corps claim that determining CWA protection for streams and wetlands became confusing and complex following Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006, and nearly every business and the general public, including farmers, have wanted clarity of how and to what waters the Clean Water Act pertains.
Ag Group Concerns
The jointly proposed rule’s definitions of protected waters will apply to all Clean Water Act programs. Groups including the Agricultural Retailers Association and American Farm Bureau Federation have expressed concern that the proposed rule could overstep the bounds of the CWA. These groups concerned about new rulemaking have been working with Congress to make sure the water covered is navigable streams and continuously flowing waterways.
During a media conference yesterday, March 25, Gina McCarthy, U.S. EPA administrator, said, “It (the rule) does not expand the Clean Water Act. I repeat, it does not protect any new types of water that has not been historically covered under the Clean Water Act. We know how vital water is to America’s farmers and ranchers. Some in the agriculture community think that a new rule might mean expansion to all waters. As I’ve explained, that simply is not the case.
“For the past three years, the EPA and Army Corps have listened to the concerns and advice from states, local governments, the agriculture community and more. I often say our farmers and ranchers are our original conservationists, and the EPA has worked on and on with the Department of Agriculture to make sure we are addressing farmers’ concerns up front.
“This rule will not regulate groundwater or tile drainage systems. It will not increase regulations of ditches whether they are irrigation or drainage. It can be clear that this rule keeps in tact existing Clean Water Act exemptions for agricultural activities, but it does more for farmers than that. It actually expands those exemptions.
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