The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) met in December and discussed issues regarding Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS). There were no major surprises that came out of the discussion, in the opinion of Steve Taylor, the Mid America CropLife Association water consultant. 

“We anticipated bias from some members of the SAB and we expected groups to have their talking points. I fully expect that the SAB report will allow for an extremely broad interpretation of what waters can be called WOTUS,” Taylor wrote for the MACA members’ newsletter.

He continued, “At the meeting, EPA scientists stated isolated wetlands and ditches can have a significant impact on downstream waters. However, EPA admitted that the study was unable to show a general linkage between isolated wetlands and downstream waters and that such connections would have to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Environmental groups urged the SAB to consider rephrasing the conclusions of the report to show at a minimum that the cumulative impacts of wetlands found outside flood plains and riparian areas were not insubstantial. Some members of the SAB said they would recommend the study highlight the effects of human activities. Allison Aldous, a SAB member with the Nature Conservancy, suggested considering the impact of human-altered activities on water bodies. The comments we submitted (through the Federal Water Quality Coalition) centered on the Supreme Court's call for a 'significant nexus' to be established with a navigable water.

“At the meeting, there was also some issue taken by the fact that EPA has already drafted the rule to implement this policy. However, EPA has yet to release the draft. It appears the rule will be held until the last minute and then rushed through with little time for review and comment. A letter to EPA dated December 16th and signed by mostly Democrat members of Congress urged EPA to move the rule forward. It is interesting to call for moving a rule forward while a SAB is still considering the science behind the rule.”