WASHINGTON, July 16, 2014— The House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure approved a bill today that would invalidate the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed rule re-defining “Waters of the United States” under the Clean Water Act (CWA).
EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released the proposal in March, and extended the public comment period until Oct. 20.
The “Waters of the United States Regulatory Overreach Protection Act of 2014” (H.R. 5078), introduced by Rep. Steve Southerland, R-Flor., halts any action of the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers regarding the proposed definition.
“This (EPA) proposal takes the authority Congress granted EPA far beyond the scope of Congressional intent,” said Public Lands Council President Brice Lee in a statement praising the bill's passage. “Not only is this illegal, but it clearly disregards the Supreme Court's interpretation of the Clean Water Act jurisdiction.”
Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) hosted a webinar today directly challenging some of the criticisms of its proposal.
Nancy Stoner, the acting assistant administrator of the Office of Water at EPA, said the proposed rule actually narrows the EPA’s jurisdiction over water by adhering to the 2001 and 2006 Supreme Court opinions on the matter. She noted that the Supreme Court said the CWA, first passed in 1972, should cover navigable waters as well as those with a “significant nexus” to navigable waters, based on science.
“The proposed rule does not include any waters that have not historically been covered under the Clean Water Act,” Stoner said. She insisted that every exemption for normal farming and ranching practices is maintained in the proposed rule.
“We worked really hard to make sure the proposed rule doesn’t have a negative impact on agriculture…that it actually benefits agriculture,” she said, noting that EPA launched a website to defend its proposal.
Stoner also mentioned an “interpretive rule” published by EPA that lists 56 common conservation practices on farms and ranches that are exempt from the CWA permitting process. The interpretive rule, which is already in effect, is intended to make sure certain conservation practices recognized by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) are clearly categorized as exempt, she said.
Stoner clarified that a farmer does not need a contract with NRCS before using any of the practices, but must follow standards outlined by NRCS to be exempt.
Several agricultural organizations, including the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) and the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) have asked EPA to withdraw the proposal, painting them as examples of unwarranted government overreach. The waters of the U.S. proposal includes connected streams and wetlands as part of a system that could affect “navigable” waterways, and critics say the EPA could actually end up regulating ditches. AFBF put together a public relations campaign aimed at defeating the proposal called “Ditch the Rule.”
Stoner insisted Wednesday that EPA is not expanding its jurisdiction over ditches under the rule. She said the agencies are clarifying that all ditches constructed in dry lands, that drain only dry lands, and don’t have perennial flow, are not “Waters of the U.S.”
“This includes many roadside ditches and ditches collecting runoff or drainage from crop fields,” Stoner said.
During a trip to Missouri last week, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said that while some of the agriculture community’s concerns about the agency’s proposed rule are legitimate, others are “just ludicrous.”
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