The EPA's Clean Water Rule has been over a year in the making. Find out what it includes and why some opponents consider it an overreach of federal power.
The Clean Water Rule attempts to better define which bodies of water are subject to the Clean Water Act. Opponents call it a federal land grab; the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says the rule reduces the scope of waters under its jurisdiction.
The regulation has been the subject of strong criticism since first proposed in 2014. It was delivered in its final form to the White House Office of Management and Budget on April 6.
The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, however, was quick to object. On April 17, the committee endorsed a bill requiring repeal of the measure by a vote of 36 to 22. It was just one of the congressional committees that have held hearings on the EPA and Army Corps of Engineer joint rule this year.
Opponents have a “Ditch the Rule” website saying EPA’s jurisdiction “would expand immensely” under the new rule. The EPA responded with its own “Ditch the Myth” page that states it “does not protect any waters that have not historically been covered under the Clean Water Act” and actually “protects fewer waters” than before.
Opponents say the new rule covers puddles, ponds, ditches, dry streams, groundwater and isolated wetlands. The EPA says puddles aren’t covered, it reduces regulation of ditches, adds an exclusion for ditches through dry lands that aren’t wet year-round, continues the exemption for farm ponds that has been in place for decades, adds exclusions for stock watering and irrigation ponds, and for the first time, states specifically that groundwater is not covered by the rule. Walking cows across a stream or wetland requires a permit, according to opponents. Farmers do not need a permit for doing so, responds the EPA.
The Clean Water Rule was intended to clear up confusion and uncertainty brought on by various court ruling on challenges to the 1972 Clean Water Act that put into doubt what waters were under jurisdiction of the law. As required to meet Supreme Court findings, the new rule limits jurisdiction to waters that have a significant effect on navigable waters downstream, rather than just some hydrological connection, according to EPA.
When the rule was first proposed in 2014, Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy said it did not expand the agency’s regulatory scope.
“The increased clarity will save us time, keep money in our pockets, cut red tape, give certainty to business and help fulfill the Clean Water Act's original promise: to make America's waters fishable and swimmable for all,” she said.
Despite complaints about the lack of public input, the EPA says millions of public comments were considered in rewriting the rule in the past year, and the agency held more than 400 meetings across the country.
While hearings continue in Washington, D.C., the rule is being reviewed by OMB, and will be formally issued later this spring unless blocked by Congress.