Thursday, February 05, 2015

Republican lawmakers attack WOTUS rules; EPA chair promises to clarify confusing language

Republican leaders told top environmental officials on Wednesday that they should scrap proposed water rules that define what is and isn't a body of water, Chris Adams reports for McClatchy Newspapers. "In an unusual joint hearing involving the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, the Republican majority that now controls both houses of Congress showed it is intent on trying to derail the president’s environmental agenda in his last two years in office."

Proposed rules have caused confusion from the start, with Republican lawmakers on Wednesday expressing "outrage at what they called a 'power grab,' while Democrats countered that opposition to the rule was built on a tower of misconceptions," Adams writes. Many Republicans and farmers fear the rules will expand Environmental Protection Agency jurisdiction over water rights, while EPA denies those claims.

EPA head Gina McCarthy, who has often done a poor job explaining the rules, told lawmakers that the rules require some clarification to avoid confusion, Philip Brasher reports for Agri-Pulse, a Washington newsletter. McCarthy told lawmakers, “You have my absolute word that we are going to try to narrow what we are claiming jurisdiction over." When asked about how eroded areas would be treated, she said, “We are going to tackle that confusion head on.”

McCarthy "also emphasized that ditches and other areas with water in them would have to have a 'significant connection' with a navigable waterway to be subject to regulation," Brasher writes. She said, “The ditch issue drives me crazy as it does everyone else. We need to be very clear that we're not just respecting the current exemptions but expanding on those.” Brasher writes, "The promises to rework the rule—but lack of specifics as to what changes would be made—made it more difficult for Republicans to attack the rule during the hearing."

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