The Obama administration on Wednesday finalized new regulations that it says will protect streams, rivers and wetlands that provide drinking water to more than 117 million Americans.
The Clean Water Rule, drafted by the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, protects tributaries with signs of flowing water. These streams and wetlands can affect the health of downstream waters that people use for drinking and other purposes.
“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,” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said in a statement.
Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth, an advocacy group that supports environmental protection efforts, said the group applauded the Obama administration for enacting the new regulations.
“President Obama heeded the call of sound science and public input in finalizing this rule,” he said in a statement.
House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) slammed the move. “The administration’s decree to unilaterally expand federal authority is a raw and tyrannical power grab that will crush jobs,” he said in a statement.
Before the rule, up to 60% of American streams and millions of acres of wetlands were potentially overlooked by the Clean Water Act. One in three Americans pump drinking water affected by these sources that lacked clear protection from pollution before the rule, according to the EPA.
“Today’s rule marks the beginning of a new era in the history of the Clean Water Act,” Jo-Ellen Darcy, assistant secretary for the Army for civil works, said in a statement.
Wednesday’s move is designed, the administration says, to clarify ambiguities in the Clean Water Act.
The American Farm Bureau has led the opposition to the new rule since it was proposed as a draft last year.
The bureau, in a letter to Congress, charged that the regulations lacked clarity. The bureau also asserted that the Clean Water Rule created confusion and risk by providing too much authority to regulate areas where rainwater collects, and could even include ditches, agricultural ponds and isolated wetlands that don’t connect to navigable water.
According to a news release from the EPA, the Clean Water Rule doesn’t introduce any new permitting requirements for agriculture and maintains previous exemptions from the law.
Nor does the rule change private property rights, McCarthy said in a blog on the EPA website.
“It only covers water — not land use,” she said in the post. “It also doesn’t regulate most ditches, doesn’t regulate groundwater or shallow subsurface flows, and doesn’t change policy on irrigation or water transfers.”
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