Opponents Fear EPA Clean Water Proposal Is a Land Grab

Sunday, 22 Jun 2014 09:13 AM

By Elliot Jager

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The Environmental Protection Agency proposes to expand the Clean Water Act in a way that opponents say will give the government jurisdiction over private property and farmland, The Hill reported.

The EPA says that the new Waters of the United States rule merely addresses confusion left by a series of U.S. Supreme Court decisions. The rule would not apply to new types of waters, and would not broaden the Clean Water Act, regulate groundwater, or expand jurisdiction over ditches, the agency asserts.

EPA Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe told the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee that the rule actually reduces "the scope of waters covered under the Clean Water Act compared to the existing regulations on the book." He added that "It would not assert jurisdiction over any type of waters not previously protected over the past 40 years," according to the Hill.

Opponents are not reassured. Farmers say that the rules could be open to a more expansive interpretation down the line,  The New York Times reported.

In addition to opposition from farming interests, the bill is opposed by land developers, the stone industry, and local governments, the Hill reported. They see the move as a "land grab" that gives EPA powers over back yards, wet spots, and puddles thereby broadening the kinds of water resources where government can apply pollution rules, according to the Hill.

Nineteen Democrats have joined most House Republicans in writing the Army Corps of Engineers urging that the EPA scheme be scrapped citing concerns over "unnecessary ambiguity."

The House letter states: "The rule would place features such as ditches, ephemeral drainages, ponds, natural or man-made, prairie potholes, seeps, flood plains, and other occasionally or seasonally wet areas under federal control."

Meanwhile, the House Appropriations Committee passed a bill that would block money to enforce the new water rule through the Energy Department or Army Corps of Engineers.

The measure has Senate opposition as well. Some 30 Republicans have signed on to legislation introduced by Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., that would obstruct the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers from enforcing the rule.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy hopes to convince opponents to reconsider. In a Farm Journal op-ed defending the rule she pledged that it would "not add to or expand the scope of waters historically protected under the Clean Water Act." McCarthy wrote, "It will not regulate groundwater or tile drainage systems; and it will not increase regulation of ditches (whether they are irrigation or drainage)."

The rule has the support of the Sierra Club and other environmental groups.


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