Obama's Clean Water Rule Will Increase Federal Authority On Pollution

| by Kathryn Schroeder
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A clean water regulation is expected from the Obama Administration very soon that will restore the federal government’s authority to restrict pollution in the nation’s rivers, lakes, streams, and wetlands.

Support for the new rule, known as Waters of the U.S., is coming from environmentalists, while businesses are opposed to the action, The New York Times reports.

Environmentalists view the rule as an important step in securing cleaner natural bodies of water and healthier drinking water. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), who proposed the rule, released a blog post in April showing their support.

“Water is the lifeblood of healthy people and healthy economies,” Gina McCarthy, the EPA’s administrator, wrote. “We have a duty to protect it. That’s why E.P.A. and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are finalizing a Clean Water Rule later this spring to protect critical streams and wetlands that are currently vulnerable to pollution and destruction.”

Businesses, including farmers, property developers, fertilizer and pesticide makers, oil and gas producers, and a national association of golf course owners, think the rule will restrain economic growth and infringe upon property owners’ rights.

Republicans in Congress are also opposed to the new rule and are reportedly advancing legislation to block or delay it. A bill was passed in the House to block it, and the Senate is currently working on their own version.

“Under this outrageously broad new rule, Washington bureaucrats would now have a say in how farmers, and ranchers, and families use their own property,” said Republican Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, the principal author of the Senate bill. “It would allow the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate private property just based on things like whether it’s used by animals or birds, or even insects … This rule is not designed to protect the traditional waters of the United States. It is designed to expand the power of Washington bureaucrats.”

The Waters of the U.S. rule will be issued under the 1972 clean water act. That act gave the federal government broad authority to limit pollution in major water bodies, but many still question whether the federal government had authority over smaller streams and headwater, and other sources of water. The new rule will clarify their authority, and allow the federal government to limit pollution in smaller bodies of water.

The new rule will apply to about 60 percent of the nation’s waters, including groundwater and other sources of drinking water.

“Until now, major bodies of water were protected under the law,” Elizabeth Ouzts, a spokeswoman for Environment America told The New York Times. “But they can’t be fully protected unless the streams that flow into them are also protected … We could spend a lot of money to massively treat the water that we drink, but it makes a lot more sense to protect the source.”

The American Farm Bureau is leading a coalition to stop the EPA’s new rule, or change it, out of fear of rising costs that farmers may incur. They even started a social media campaign to stop it, using the Twitter hashtag #DitchTheRule to grow support — the EPA responded with their own, #DitchTheMyth.

“It’s going to cause a nightmare for farmers,” said Don Parrish, the senior director of congressional relations for the American Farm Bureau Federation. “Our members own the majority of the landscape that’s going to be impacted by this. It’s going to make their land, the most valuable thing they possess, less valuable. It could reduce the value of some farmland by as much as 40 percent. If you want to build a home, if you want to grow food, if you want a job to go with that clean water, you have to ask E.P.A. for it.”

The water rule may be seen as another push by President Obama to ensure an environmental legacy, without the requirement of new legislation from the Republican-controlled Congress.

In 2011, the Obama Administration released a national Clean Water Framework that displayed its commitment to “protecting the health of America’s water.” The framework outlined policies, programs and initiatives that would address “today’s clean water challenges.” The approaches included updating the nation’s water policies, as well as promoting innovative partnerships, enhancing communities and economies by restoring important water bodies, innovating for more water-efficient communities, ensuring clean water to protect public health, enhancing use and enjoyment of our waters, and supporting science to solve water problems.

The entire Clean Water Framework is available on WhiteHouse.gov.

Sources: The New York Times, WhiteHouse.gov

Photo Source: Ray BouKnight/Flickr, WikiCommons