Wednesday, March 26, 2014

EPA, Army Corps propose new water rules, draw flak from business groups and Republicans

The Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Tuesday released proposed new water rules that would put "more small bodies of water and wetlands under Clean Water Act protections," Alicia Mundy reports for The Wall Street Journal. The rules "would clarify which waterways are subject to federal pollution regulations based on a large scientific study on how discharges from smaller bodies of water—including streams that flow only at certain times of the year or wetlands that occasionally dry out—affect water quality downstream."

The proposal was immediately "criticized by business groups, Republicans and a few Democrats," Mundy reports. The rules have also raised concern among farmers that EPA could expand its jurisdiction over streams, requiring farmers to obtain permits in cases where they have previously been exempt.

EPA and the corps said in a joint statement, "The proposed rule clarifies protection for streams and wetlands," but "does not protect any new types of waters that have not historically been covered under the Clean Water Act." Mundy notes, "The regulatory action might provoke legal challenges from several economic sectors—including the agriculture, construction and energy industries. Opponents say the rules could delay projects while permits are sought for dredging, filling or drainage in more areas." (Read more)

Proposed rules have caused plenty of concern, and some confusion. Here is a roundup of stories about the proposed rules, as noted by Farm Policy:

"Though U.S. agriculture groups have feared an expected expansion of the Clean Water Act for nearly three years, some 53 conservation practices would for the first time be exempt and previous agriculture exemptions from the law would stay in place in a newly proposed rule announced Tuesday by EPA," Todd Neely writes for DTN The Progressive Farmer. (Read more)

“The question of which isolated streams and wetlands qualify for protection under the Clean Water Act has been in dispute for a decade. The Supreme Court has issued two decisions, and the George W. Bush administration issued guidance in 2003 and 2008 limiting the scope of the act. The Obama administration delayed issuing a rule on the matter during its first term in part because of fierce objections from business interests," Juliet Eilperin and Darryl Fears report for The Washington Post. (Read more)

The Senate Agriculture Committee's ranking Republican, Thad Cochran of Mississippi, said in a release: “Over the past five years the EPA has demonstrated a willingness to expand its regulatory reach, ignore common sense and, at times, exceed any rational reading of the law. Its actions have increased the regulatory burdens and costs on farmers, ranchers, businesses and other job creators. Stakeholders in Mississippi and elsewhere should take a very close look at this latest EPA regulatory effort.” (Read more)

Democratic Rep. Sanford D. Bishop Jr. of Georgia said in a release, “I believe that regulations should be put to three basic tests: (1) be based on a cost-benefit analysis; (2) be based in sound science; (3) and be based on plain common sense. In this light, I have concerns as to the impact the EPA’s new proposed regulations of streams and waterways under the Clean Water Act will have on America’s farming communities, businesses, and others whose livelihoods depend on available water resources.” (Read more)

National Cattlemen’s Beef Association president Bob McCan wrote, “This is a step too far, even by an agency and an administration notorious for over-regulation." (Read more)

Chandler Goule, senior vice president of programs for the National Farmers Union, took another view in a release: “Today’s ag-friendly announcement clearly indicates that NFU and other agricultural stakeholders made their voices heard, and EPA took notice.” (Read more)

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