Confusion in Congress underscores need for clarified Clean Water Act protections

EPA reports that over 117 million Americans, more than one third of the population, get at least part of their drinking water from headwater, seasonal or rain-dependent streams—many of which are connected to wetlands. (© Robert Llewellyn)

A joint Congressional hearing earlier today on the Environmental Protection Agency’s and the Army Corps of Engineers’ proposed rule further highlights the need for clarification on what streams, rivers, lakes and wetlands are protected under the Clean Water Act.

EPA’s proposed rule would uphold safeguards for certain smaller streams and wetlands – which help feed the drinking water sources for one in three Americans – that currently have no guaranteed protection from pollution.

Conservative lawmakers were quick to voice their criticisms, going as far to call the proposed rule a “power grab,” as EPA administrator, Gina McCarthy, and Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, Jo-Ellen Darcy, answered members’ questions and attempted to set the record straight on what the rule will include when it is finalized this spring.

Despite industry spin and opposition efforts to promote confusion around the rule, EPA has received more than 800,000 comments in support of the proposed rule from small businesses, states, local elected officials, sportsmen groups, health organizations and conservation groups.

Opponents of the rule have demanded that EPA not act without a final, peer-reviewed report. The agency’s January 15th release of its final scientific report, Connectivity of Streams and Wetlands to Downstream Waters: A Review and Synthesis of the Scientific Evidence, confirms there is strong scientific evidence to support the fact that streams and many wetlands are connected to downstream waters in a significant way.

During the last public comment period, SELC submitted comments on behalf of over 40 groups making the case that depressional wetlands, such as crater-like Carolina bays found on the Southeastern coastal plain, should be covered under the final rule as a category of waters of the United States. 

“Considering the persistent spread of misinformation and hyperbole around the proposed rule, it is more important than ever that we continue the conversation and move forward in clarifying these protections,” said Bill Sapp from the Southern Environmental Law Center. “The science behind the rule is clear, and supporting the process behind the most significant federal rulemaking on water protections in three decades will help to preserveour rivers, streams and wetlands, now and for future generations.” 

 

Read our press release on today’s hearing.

Read SELC’s comments on the proposed rule.

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