EPA unveils new regulations to protect US waters from pollution

Reuters / Jim Urquhart

Reuters / Jim Urquhart

The US Environmental Protection Agency has issued a new rule intended to curb pollution in the nation’s waterways. It’s also meant to clarify just which waters the EPA can regulate inside the United States.

Dubbed the “Clean Water
Rule,” the new regulations take aim at protecting the streams and
wetlands that may not necessarily feed the country’s large water
sources but are still vital to providing Americans drinking
water. According to the New York Times, the rule will cover 60
percent of the bodies of water in America.

“Too many of our waters have been left vulnerable to
President Barack Obama said in a statement on
the rule, adding that “one in three Americans now gets
drinking water from streams lacking clear protection.”

“With today’s rule, we take another step towards protecting
the waters that belong to all of us.”

Under the Clean Water Rule, water sources for these 117 million
Americans will be protected, wrote EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and
Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works Jo-Ellen Darcy on

Specifically, the rule is intended to act as part of the
already-existing Clean Water Act of 1972, which allowed the
government to regulate large bodies of water – such as the
Mississippi River and the Puget Sound – as well as the waterways
that feed into them. However, subsequent court cases have created
confusion regarding the government’s power to regulate smaller
bodies of water, since it’s unclear how the government should
define connected waterways.

Under the new rule, the EPA will monitor all tributaries that
feature flowing water. If a body of water is 1,500 feet away from
another body that is already protected under the Clean Water Act,
it will also be protected by pollution regulations.

“This rule will provide the clarity and certainty businesses
and industry need about which waters are protected by the Clean
Water Act, and it will ensure polluters who knowingly threaten
our waters can be held accountable,”
Obama said.

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Notably, the EPA said that existing exemptions for agriculture
will remain in place. Water bodies that are still and not
flowing, such as ditches, will also remain outside of the EPA’s

“The final rule doesn’t create any new permitting
requirements for agriculture, maintains all previous exemptions
and exclusions, and even adds exclusions for features like
artificial lakes and ponds, water-filled depressions from
construction, and grass swales – all to make clear our goal is to
stay out of agriculture’s way,”
McCarthy and Darcy wrote.

That assurance was not enough for agricultural and business
groups, who oppose the measure. According to the New York Times,
the American Farm Bureau and the US Chamber of Commerce are just
two of the multiple groups getting ready to sue the EPA over the

“We … remain concerned with the rule and its potential impact
on California farmers and ranchers. As [originally] proposed, the
rule would have improperly extended federal regulation to
isolated waters such as puddles and ditches, and it would have
regulated land use under the guise of regulating water,”

said Kari Fisher of the California Farm Bureau to the Los Angeles Times.

Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers continued to express their
opposition to the EPA’s environmental efforts. Conservatives in
both the House of Representatives and the Senate have proposed
legislation that would keep the rule from going into effect.

“The administration’s decree to unilaterally expand federal
authority is a raw and tyrannical power grab that will crush
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said in a

Environmentalists, however, welcomed the EPA’s rule with open

“We applaud the administration for standing up for the
millions of Americans, more than one-third of the population,
whose drinking water quality has been at risk for pollution
without this rule,”
Navis Bermudez of the Southern
Environmental Law Center said to the Huffington Post.

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