Clarifying Protection for Streams and Wetlands

In September, we joined the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in developing a proposed rule that will provide greater consistency, certainty, and predictability nationwide by clarifying where the Clean Water Act applies – and where it doesn’t. These improvements are necessary to reduce costs and minimize delays in the permit process, and protect waters that are vital to public health, the environment, and the economy.

Over the past decade, Supreme Court rulings have caused confusion about which streams and wetlands are protected from pollution and development under the Clean Water Act. As a result, members of Congress, state and local officials, industry, agriculture, environmental groups, and the public asked EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers to clarify jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act.

In response, we’ve developed a draft rule that takes into account the more narrow reading of the Clean Water Act jurisdiction established by the Supreme Court. This means that EPA’s jurisdiction will only include the protection of the same waters that have historically been covered under the Clean Water Act for the past 40 years – in fact, it will be a smaller set of waters than before the Supreme Court decision.

In addition, the proposed rule won’t change existing statutory or regulatory exemptions or exclusions, including those that apply to the agricultural sector. And that’s good news for America’s farmers and ranchers.

By providing greater clarity on which waters aren’t covered, the Clean Water Act and USDA’s conservation programs can work in tandem to protect water quality and encourage expanded participation in conservation programs.

At the same time that we proposed the rule, we also submitted a draft science report to EPA’s independent Science Advisory Board as the scientific basis needed to clarify Clean Water Act jurisdiction. Any final rulemaking will occur after the scientific assessment has been finalized, and will incorporate its findings.

Clean water is vital to every single American, from families who rely on safe places to swim and healthy fish to eat, to farmers who need abundant and reliable sources of water to grow their crops, to hunters and fisherman who depend on healthy waters for recreation and their work, and to businesses that need a steady supply of water to make their products.

The health of our rivers, lakes, bays and coastal waters depends on the network of streams and wetlands where they begin.  Streams and wetlands provide many benefits – they trap floodwaters, recharge groundwater supplies, remove pollution, and provide fish and wildlife habitat. Streams and wetlands are also economic drivers because of their role in fishing, hunting, agriculture, recreation, energy and manufacturing.

About 60 percent of stream miles in the U.S only flow seasonally or after rain, but have a huge impact on the downstream waters. And approximately 117 million people – one in three Americans – get drinking water from public systems that rely on these streams. These are the important waterways for which EPA is working to clarify protection. The process for making these improvements will be transparent, based on the best available science, consistent with the law, and include the opportunity for public input.

Nancy Stoner is EPA’s Acting Assistant Administrator in EPA’s Office of Water. Since February 1, 2010, Nancy Stoner has been serving as the Deputy Assistant Administrator for Water. Ms. Stoner’s extensive career in environmental policy and law began in 1987 as a trial attorney in the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. Most recently Ms. Stoner served as the Co-Director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s (NRDC) Water Program. Ms. Stoner is a 1986 graduate of Yale Law School and a 1982 graduate of the University of Virginia.

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