After a lengthy review process, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on May 27 finalized its Clean Water Rule, meant to improve and clarify water protection under the Clean Water Act. While it may be a win for water advocates and the environment, a number of industry and agricultural groups say it will hamper economic recovery and overlooks legitimate concerns.
According to an EPA press release:
The rule ensures that waters protected under the Clean Water Act are more precisely defined and predictably determined, making permitting less costly, easier, and faster for businesses and industry. The rule is grounded in law and the latest science, and is shaped by public input. The rule does not create any new permitting requirements for agriculture and maintains all previous exemptions and exclusions.
“For the water in the rivers and lakes in our communities that flow to our drinking water to be clean, the streams and wetlands that feed them need to be clean too,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. “Protecting our water sources is a critical component of adapting to climate change impacts like drought, sea level rise, stronger storms, and warmer temperatures – which is why EPA and the Army have finalized the Clean Water Rule to protect these important waters, so we can strengthen our economy and provide certainty to American businesses.”
Here's how the EPA explained it to the public.
Specific provisions include clear definition and protection of tributaries that impact downstream waters and clarity on where and how rules extend to adjacent waters. It also protects certain regional waters, focuses on streams, maintains the status of waters within Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems, and reduces use of case-specific analysis of waters.
On finalization of the rules, the Portland Cement Association issued a statement explaining it's position that the rule will stymie economic recovery. The statement reads in part:
In taking this action, EPA greatly expanded its own regulatory authority and created new bureaucratic red tape for many U.S. industrial activities.
"This rule will impact a wide range of normal U.S. industrial and agricultural activities, at a time when workers are just getting back on the job after eight years of tough economic times," said James G. Toscas, president and CEO of the Portland Cement Association (PCA). "This is simply the wrong kind of regulation at the wrong time."
Serious concerns were voiced in public comments when this rule was originally proposed. A key concern was that decisions on where the new rule would apply could be made by government officials on a case-by-case basis. EPA said that it addressed the public comments, but the final version of the rule had only cosmetic changes.
Another opponent is the American Farm Bureau, which mounted a social media campaign against the ruling using the Twitter hashtag #Ditchtherule. In a statement following the announcement of the finalized rule, Bob Stallman, President, American Farm Bureau Federation said:
... The process used to produce this rule was flawed. The EPA’s proposal transgressed clear legal boundaries set for it by Congress and the Courts and dealt more with regulating land use than protecting our nation’s valuable water resources. EPA’s decision to mount an aggressive advocacy campaign during the comment period has tainted what should have been an open and thoughtful deliberative process. While we know that farmers and ranchers were dedicated to calling for substantial changes to the rule, we have serious concerns about whether their comments were given full consideration.
The rule goes into effect 60 days after publication in the Federal Register.