Volume 14, Issue 39
EPA’s Proposal to Define its Jurisdiction over Bodies of Water
In March, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed that a rule be implemented to establish more clearly which bodies of water—for example, wetlands and streams—actually fall under the Clean Water Act, and, subsequently, under their own authority. The proposal became a controversial topic that forced Gina McCarthy, the EPA Administer, to claim that the rule does not significantly expand the EPA’s current authority to those bodies of water that lay outside of the agency’s jurisdiction.
Such a statement only added to the debate, however. Republicans argue that the rule grants the EPA too broad a reign, and that inconsequential bodies of water will become subject to federal regulation. Pennsylvania Representative Lou Barletta asserted, “I have heard from many of my constituents that this rule would force them to prove that large mud puddles and ditches on their property are not federally regulated waters…sometimes, a mud puddle is just a mud puddle.” Perhaps the regulation of inconsequential bodies of water is exactly what McCarthy meant to allude to when she said that the new rule would not “significantly” expand the EPA’s authority.
Democrats, however, appear somewhat split on the issue. The larger percentage of Democrats dismiss the Republican concern as excessive use of hyperbole. Oregon Representative Peter DeFazio, the top Democrat on the House Natural Resource Committee, claimed that if such concerns were taken seriously, then not only have we “departed from reality,” but have also returned to “the earlier era of the 2003 and 2008 guidance.” Other Democrats, however, such as West Virginia Representative Nick Rahall—the top Democrat on the House Transportation Committee—agreed with the Republicans that such a rule may result in federal overreach. He stated, “The only certainty that these regulations provide is the sure knowledge that under them, anyone undertaking any activity so much as a ditch in the United States will have to deal with the bureaucracy known as the EPA.”
This debate remains far from over, however. In early September, the House passed legislation that would prevent the EPA from implementing their proposed rule with a vote of 262 to 152. The bill would block the EPA from using their proposal in any way regarding the Clean Water Act.
Obama’s administration, however, “strongly opposes” the bill, and will advise that President Obama veto’s the bill if it reaches his desk. The Obama administration is allegedly only interested in protecting the waterways from pollution. They claimed that “clarifying the scope of the Clean Water Act helps to protect clean water, safeguard public health, and strengthen the economy.” They continued by asserting that the bill not only “would derail current efforts to clarify the scope of the Clean Water Act, hamstring future regulatory efforts, and create significant ambiguity regarding existing regulations and guidance,” but would also “sow more confusion and invite more conflict at a time when our communities and businesses need clarity and certainty around clean water regulation.”
This debate is set to continue, and with the threat of a presidential veto looming overhead, it may prove to be a significant issue in upcoming elections.