Mistrust and Uncertainty Over EPA’s Redefinition of American Waterways

By Sam Bermas-Dawes

Washington, D.C.— Members of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry heard testimony on Tuesday from stakeholders concerned with the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed redefinition of which bodies of water fall under the Clean Water Act.

“A landowner could be penalized 37,500 dollars per violation, per day in violation of the Clean Water Act,” Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said to the Senate committee. “That’s a heck of a lot of money sir.”

The EPA says it is attempting to clarify existing national protections under the Clean Water Act with the proposed rule, but Dr. Donald van der Vaart, Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in North Carolina, said such a rule would only complicate federal law and negatively impact the agricultural industry of his state.

“We are greatly concerned that the proposed rule will cause this important industry, and other significant segments of our state’s economy and infrastructure, to fall victim to ever-expanding federal overreach that will unnecessarily stifle economic growth and prosperity with little, if any, environmental benefit,” Dr. van der Vaart said.

The testimony was given in the midst of growing criticism of the EPA’s new rule by largely Republican sources, including Congressmen, Governors and other State officials who say the new rule will negatively impact industry and residential needs.

In mid-March, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said at a Nebraska Nation Farmers Convention that she wished  the rollout of the new rule had been handled differently.

“We should have put together a rule that didn’t try to satisfy everybody, but got at tough questions,” McCarthy. “When we rolled the rule out, we knew there would be criticism out of the gate that would turn a cup-half-full statement into a cup-half-empty.”

Despite setbacks, McCarty told the crowd in Nebraska that she remains committed and the EPA and U.S. Army Corp of Engineers will continue drafting the Clean Water Rule.

“We got serious feedback that our definition of tributaries was too vague and all-encompassing. And I get it, I can see how folks worried we might be painting tributaries with too broad a brush, McCarty said. “So we’re considering ways to narrow that definition and make sure there are bright lines around exactly what we mean.”

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