There’s been much buzz surrounding the Clean Water Rule, recently issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. While the rule aims to clarify permitting regulations already in place with the Clean Water Act of 1972, many are worried it will create new stringent and burdensome regulations. Sixteen states have filed lawsuits against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over the rule. In an attempt to protect streams and wetlands, the Clean Water Rule simply enhances the Clean Water Act, responding to more than a decade’s worth of requests to more clearly define the water bodies and waterways referenced in the Clean Water Act.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, clarification of the definitions of the waters protected by the Clean Water Act, will protect valuable water resources and help make permitting less costly, easier, and faster for business and industry. This is because it eliminates much confusion over which waterways are regulated, and how they are to be regulated. This reduces the time and resources required to submit and approve a permit. While environmental groups and some businesses support the rule, claiming the clean water is central their operations, other interests have mounted opposition to the rule, citing it as an example of burdensome federal overreach.
The Clean Water Rule is the result of more than 400 meetings with stakeholders from all over the country, over 1 million public comments, and the latest scientific research showing that the health of small tributaries and wetlands play an integral role in the health of larger, downstream bodies of water. By ensuring that our smaller tributaries and wetlands are covered by Clean Water Rule, the drinking water sources of more than 117 million Americans will now be protected that may not have had sufficient coverage under the Clean Water Act alone.
Only types of waters already addressed by the Clean Water Act are included in the Clean Water Rule, which does not create any new permitting requirements for agriculture. It also maintains all previous exemptions and exclusions, including activities like planting, harvesting, and moving livestock. The rule does not regulate most ditches, groundwater, shallow subsurface flows, or tile drains, and only requires a Clean Water Act permit if a protected water is going to be polluted or destroyed by an activity. Moreover, the rule does not place regulations on land use.
Not only is the rule important for the health of the surface water sources we utilize for drinking water, the water ways protected by this rule are beneficial to many aspects of our communities. Wetlands and streams trap floodwaters, recharge groundwater supplies, filter pollution, provide habitat for fish and wildlife, and are important for recreation and commercial value.
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Alfred Guiseppe, PG