Photo by Shane Harms

EPA proposes major upgrade for clean water rules

Information provided by the Center for Rural Affairs

Today, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Army Corps of Engineers proposed an administrative rule to close loopholes in the Clean Water Act that have left more than half of America’s streams and millions of wetland acres unprotected from pollution. The Center for Rural Affairs predicts that the new rules will provide much needed clarity in Clean Water Act enforcement that will be advantageous across rural and small town America.

“Rural America - and the family farmers, ranchers and small towns therein - are the tip of the spear in protecting the quality of the water of the United States,” said John Crabtree of the Center for Rural Affairs. “The proposed rule is a commonsense effort to clear the regulatory waters, protect the quality of the nation’s surface waters, and provide an environment in which economically vital activities such as hunting, fishing and birding as well as farming and ranching can both thrive and contribute to a better quality of life and safer drinking water for those of us that live here, and also for our neighbors downstream.”

This rulemaking comes after a decade of uncertainty over the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act, following Supreme Court challenges in 2001 and 2006. The new rule, which will be published in the Federal Register and available for public comment as soon as this week, would restore Clean Water Act protections to 20 million acres of wetlands and more than half the nation’s streams, restoring protections to drinking water for 117 million Americans.

“By providing clarity on what constitutes protected Waters of the United States, the EPA has an opportunity to ensure that the rule will provide greater opportunities for farmers and ranchers to partner with USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service conservation programs to better utilize sustainable agriculture practices to enhance water quality,” continued Crabtree. “And the rule can help reduce some of the economic burden currently faced by many small towns in improving drinking water quality.”

“Water is the basis of life, and it is at the heart of everything we do here on our farm,” said Charlie Johnson, who owns and operates a 2,000 acre organic farm near Madison, South Dakota. “The clarity this rule will provide will be important as we work to improve soil health, increase water retention and reduce runoff through buffer strips, cover crops and other sustainable farming practices.”

The EPA will publish the proposed rule in the Federal Register and upon that publication announce a 90 day public comment period. According to Crabtree, that process will provide the opportunity for individuals and organizations to provide input to EPA on ways that the rule can be further improved upon. “Although we are encouraged by this first step in providing clarity and a better regulatory framework for protecting the quality of surface waters across the nation, we also know that no rule is perfect.”

“We are analyzing the full text of the rule now, all 370 pages of it, and we will share our analysis with the Administration and with the public. And we will work to encourage our supporters, friends and allies from across the U.S. to offer their insights as well,” Crabtree concluded.

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