Alaska Republicans blast EPA, Obama for overreach on water rule
By MARY KAUFFMAN
June 03, 2015
In what the Environmental Protection Agency is calling an historic step for the protection of clean water, the EPA and the U.S. Army finalized the Clean Water Rule on May 27th to clearly protect from pollution and degradation the streams and wetlands that form the foundation of the nation’s water resources.
This rule will ensure 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.”
“[Wednesday's] rule marks the beginning of a new era in the history of the Clean Water Act,” said Assistant Secretary for the Army (Civil Works) Jo-Ellen Darcy. “This is a generational rule and completes another chapter in history of the Clean Water Act. This rule responds to the public's demand for greater clarity, consistency, and predictability when making jurisdictional determinations. The result will be better public service nationwide."
People need clean water for their health: About 117 million Americans – one in three people – get drinking water from streams that lacked clear protection before the Clean Water Rule. America’s cherished way of life depends on clean water, as healthy ecosystems provide wildlife habitat and places to fish, paddle, surf, and swim. Clean and reliable water is an economic driver, including for manufacturing, farming, tourism, recreation, and energy production. The health of our rivers, lakes, bays, and coastal waters are impacted by the streams and wetlands where they begin.
Protection for many of the nation’s streams and wetlands has been confusing, complex, and time-consuming as the result of Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006. EPA and the Army are taking this action today to provide clarity on protections under the Clean Water Act after receiving requests for over a decade from members of Congress, state and local officials, industry, agriculture, environmental groups, scientists, and the public for a rulemaking.
In developing the rule, the agencies held more than 400 meetings with stakeholders across the country, reviewed over one million public comments, and listened carefully to perspectives from all sides. EPA and the Army also utilized the latest science, including a report summarizing more than 1,200 peer-reviewed, published scientific studies which showed that small streams and wetlands play an integral role in the health of larger downstream water bodies.
The agencies said climate change makes protection of water resources even more essential. Streams and wetlands provide many benefits to communities by trapping floodwaters, recharging groundwater supplies, filtering pollution, and providing habitat for fish and wildlife. Impacts from climate change like drought, sea level rise, stronger storms, and warmer temperatures threaten the quantity and quality of America’s water. Protecting streams and wetlands will improve our nation’s resilience to climate change.
In response, U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) criticized the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for overreaching in its efforts to expand the list of waterways covered by the Clean Water Act. Murkowski said the EPA’s “Waters of the United States” (WOTUS) rule would greatly expand the amount of area in Alaska that will require federal permits for development – immediately creating one more roadblock to responsible construction and other productive activities.
In a prepared statement, U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan (R-AK) said, “With Alaska already home to more waters under the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act than any other state in the country, the EPA’s attempt to expand the definition of what constitutes the Waters of the United States impacts no state more than my own,” said Sen. Sullivan. “After multiple hearings both in Washington and in Alaska, it is clear that Americans from vastly different industries, ideologies and regions are clearly opposed to the scope of this rule and the process through which it was crafted. Despite this strong opposition, and dubious legal authority, the EPA has chosen to disregard Congress, and move ahead with a rule that could severely impact the nation."
Alaska Congressman Don Young (R-AK) said in a prepared statement, “There’s a saying – a government big enough to give you everything you want is big enough to take away everything you have. This Administration’s rulemaking is exactly one of those instances. They honestly believe they know what’s best and therefore are entitled to ignore the will of Congress, the people, and a majority of states by finalizing this unprecedented expansion of federal jurisdiction over states and private property."
Young said, “With more than three million lakes, twelve thousand rivers, thousands of streams, creeks, and ponds, the Clean Water Act already has monumental impacts on the economy, transportation, and development of Alaska. This rule significantly expands that scope and authority, one I believe is already too broad."
“With the current challenges of economic development across the country, unilaterally redefining the “waters of the United States” will do more damage and cause more confusion. Oil and gas operations, road transportation projects, mining, and even some of the most basic types of activity undertaken where permafrost or seasonal wet areas exist, will in all likelihood become subject to federal jurisdiction – even if these waters never reach ‘navigable waters.’ With a need for more permits nationwide, the Corps and the EPA will have an increased workload which will lead to permitting delays. The end result: more litigation, higher costs for construction projects and resource development, and prolonged delays," said Young.
Alaska's Congressman said, “Twice the Supreme Court has affirmed that both the U.S. Constitution and the Clean Water Act place limits on federal authority to manage these waters, and Congress declined to alter that careful balance between federal and state regulation. Yet, this Administration has substituted its own judgment for that of Congress by unlawfully expanding the scope of federal jurisdiction beyond anything that has ever existed under the Clean Water Act."
Alaska Republican Party Chairman Peter S. Goldberg criticized the EPA’s newest rule known as, “Waters of the United States.”
“This is yet another example of a one-size rule that clearly does not fit Alaska, and will harm our state’s economy, and it is especially troubling at a time when diversifying our economy is more important than ever,” Goldberg said.
The Obama Administration has doubled down on overreach of its authority, a clear usurpation of states’ rights, Goldberg said.
“We all want clean water for ourselves and future generations,” Goldberg said. “At its core, the Republican Party is about conservation of all our resources. But this rule allows the federal government to step in wherever there is a puddle or ditch, and it has the effect of taking away private land rights and nullifying local zoning laws. The WOTUS rule clearly does not work in Alaska, where so much of our geography has seasonal bogs. We surely don’t need Washington bureaucrats telling us what to do with our puddles.”
Goldberg praised the efforts of U. S. Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, as well as Congressman Don Young, in attempting to block the rule.
“This fight is not over,” Goldberg said. “I call on Congress to swiftly pass legislation to reverse the EPA’s unprecedented overreach and to curb this agency’s authority. I’m an optimist: The power President Obama wields is short-lived and it is unlikely that the next president will have the same imperial characteristics.”
On May 12, 2015, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 1732, the Regulatory Integrity Protection Act, by a vote of 261 to 155. This legislation was cosponsored by Young, and it overturned the EPA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ rule to broaden its regulatory authority under the Clean Water Act and required the development of a new rule with the consultation of state and local officials, stakeholders, and other parties, in addition to maintaining the federal-state partnership established under the 1972 Clean Water Act.
The EPA and the U.S. Army finalized the Clean Water Rule on May 27th and listed specifically, the Clean Water Rule:
According to the rule, a Clean Water Act permit is only needed if a water is going to be polluted or destroyed. The Clean Water Rule only protects the types of waters that have historically been covered under the Clean Water Act. It does not regulate most ditches and does not regulate groundwater, shallow subsurface flows, or tile drains. It does not make changes to current policies on irrigation or water transfers or apply to erosion in a field. The Clean Water Rule addresses the pollution and destruction of waterways – not land use or private property rights.
The rule protects clean water necessary for farming, ranching, and forestry and provides greater clarity and certainty to farmers about coverage of the Clean Water Act. Farms across America depend on clean and reliable water for livestock, crops, and irrigation. The final rule specifically recognizes the vital role that U.S. agriculture serves in providing food, fuel, and fiber at home and around the world. The rule does not create any new permitting requirements for America’s farmers. Activities like planting, harvesting, and moving livestock have long been exempt from Clean Water Act regulation, and the Clean Water Rule preserves those exemptions.
The Clean Water Rule will be effective 60 days after publication in the Federal Register.
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