The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released a new Clean Water Rule on May 27 that they said will streamline industrial permitting processes as it protects wetlands and waterways by giving the agency jurisdiction over ditches, puddles and other wetland areas.
“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 in a statement. “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.”
Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska immediately opposed the rule, coming down on the EPA “for overreaching in its efforts to expand the list of waterways covered by the Clean Water Act,” the Republican said in a statement.
Expanding the area in Alaska subject to permitting would deter development, her office said, and charged Obama with overstepping his bounds.
“The EPA’s expansion of the definition of ‘Waters of the United States’ under the Clean Water Act appears to threaten economic activities across the country—and nowhere is the impact more likely than in Alaska,” Murkowski said in a statement. “With half of all of the wetlands in the United States, Alaska is directly in the sights of the federal bureaucrats back in Washington, DC, who will now be able to make decisions from more than 4,000 miles away about how we develop almost any part of our state.”
But the EPA insisted that no new permitting requirements would be implemented and that all previous exemptions and exclusions would remain in place. Among other provisions, the Clean Water Rule “Clearly defines and protects tributaries that impact the health of downstream waters,” the EPA said, as well as providing “certainty in how far safeguards extend to nearby waters.”
In addition, features such as prairie potholes, pocosins and coastal prairie wetlands in Texas, when such features have an impact on downstream waters. The rule also “focuses on streams, not ditches,” the EPA said, by solely protecting those that are built out of or function like streams—anything that can carry pollution downstream.
Further, the EPA said, permits are only required if a waterway “is going to be polluted or destroyed.” In other words, ditches and other channels that water flows through only during rains are excluded.
Murkowski countered that by expanding the definition of what constitutes a waterway to include small streams and wetlands, the rule is too broad and “could also apply to areas of permafrost that become wetlands during the short summer months, or any other patch of land statewide where water could potentially wash across during the year,” her office’s statement said.
"Our state would be prohibited from moving, breathing,” Murkowski said in the video below. “It's not just about assuring that there's clean drinking water.”
Opponents plan legal action before the rules take effect in 60 days, the Los Angeles Times reported.