Over the strong and loud objections of polluters, Congressional Republicans, and special interest groups, the EPA finalized new rules to protect our drinking water, rivers and streams from pollution. The White House and EPA Director Gina McCarthy announced the rules Wednesday. Republicans vowed to pass legislation blocking the EPA from implementing the rules to protect waterways.
The Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers developed the rules to protect drinking water for 117 million Americans. Small streams, tributaries and wetlands will be protected from pollution and development, the Obama administration said in the announcement.
House Speaker Boehner called the rules “a raw and tyrannical power grab and regulatory hell.”
The Supreme Court had rendered decisions in 2001 and 2006 which left 60 percent of nation’s streams and millions of acres of wetlands without clear federal protection. The rules are designed to clarify which smaller waterways fall under federal protection. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said the waters affected would be those with a “direct and significant” connection to larger bodies of water downstream that are already protected.
The new rules provide that a tributary must show evidence of flowing water to be protected. The regulations would kick in and force a permitting process only if a business or landowner took steps to pollute or destroy those waters.
Director McCarthy acknowledged the proposed rules issued last year were confusing so the final rules were written to be clearer. The regulations do not create any new permitting requirements for agriculture, she said, but they even add some new exemptions for artificial lakes and ponds and water-filled depressions, among other features.
The EPA and Army Corps said the only ditches that would be covered under the rule are those that look, act and function like a tributary and carry pollution downstream.
“They asked us about ditches, and they asked us about ditches, and they asked us about ditches, so we not only kept all of the exclusions and exemptions for agriculture that are in the current rule, we actually expanded those,” she said on a press call with reporters. “If you’re not a tributary and you’re a ditch, you ain’t in,” she added. These efforts were “to make clear our goal is to stay out of agriculture’s way,” McCarthy said on the EPA website.
Brian Deese, Obama’s top environmental adviser, said the rule “is an important win for public health and for our economy,” and sought to paint its opponents as fighting clean water.
“This rule will make it easier to identify protected waters and will make those protections consistent with the law as well as the latest peer-reviewed science,” “The only people with reason to oppose the rule are polluters who want to threaten our clean water,” he said.
Environment America said the rule is an important step toward protecting drinking water for the one in three Americans whose drinking water was not sufficiently protected before.
“Our rivers, lakes, and drinking water can only be clean if the streams that flow into them are protected,” Margie Alt, executive director of Environment America, said in a statement. “That’s why today’s action is the biggest victory for clean water in a decade.”
Many Congressional Republicans, particularly those in charge of committees dealing with the environment and pollution, have not shown a high regard for science if it interferes with the profits of special interests. Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said the proposed rule has made EPA overreach even broader.
Republicans have said they will continue to fight the water rule. The House already passed a bill to repeal the measure. A group of GOP senators, including Inhofe, have pitched a bill to overturn the rule and instruct the EPA on how to write a new one. . It will take a two-thirds majority in the Senate to overcome Obama’s likely veto of that bill. Previously, they tried to strip the EPA from having authority over air and water pollution, but those bills went on where.
Meanwhile, there is hope that our scarce drinking water will be protected from pollution.
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