In Perspective: the Supreme Court’s Mercury and Air Toxics Rule Decision

The Supreme Court’s decision on EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) was disappointing to everyone working to protect public health by reducing emissions of mercury and other toxic air pollutants from coal- and oil-fired power plants.  But as we take stock of what this decision means, there are some important factors that make me confident we are still on track to reduce this dangerous pollution and better protect America’s children, families and communities.

Most notably – the Administration remains committed to finalizing the Clean Power Plan this summer and yesterday’s ruling will have no bearing on the effort to reduce carbon pollution from the largest sources of emissions.

Second – this decision is very narrow.  It did not invalidate the rule, which remains in effect today.  In fact, the majority of power plants are already in compliance or well on their way to compliance.  The Court found that EPA should have considered costs at an earlier step in the rulemaking process than it did.  The court did not question EPA’s authority to control toxic air pollution from power plants provided it considers cost in that step.  It also did not question our conclusions on human health that supported the agency’s finding that regulation is needed.  And its narrow ruling does not disturb the remainder of the D.C. Circuit decision which unanimously upheld all other aspects of the MATS rule and rejected numerous challenges to the standards themselves.

Third – this decision does not affect other Clean Air Act programs that address other sources and types of air pollution. It hinged on a very specific section of the Act that applies exclusively to the regulation of air toxics from power plants.  This is important to understand because it means that rules and programs that reduce other types of pollutants under other sections of the Clean Air Act—like ozone and fine particles (smog and soot) can continue without interruption or delay.

The decision does not affect the Clean Power Plan, which EPA will be finalizing later this summer and which will chart the course for this country to reduce harmful carbon from its fleet of existing power plants.   That’s worth repeating: The Court’s conclusion that EPA must consider cost when determining whether it is “appropriate” to regulate toxic air emissions from utilities under section 112 of the Act will not impact the development of the Clean Power Plan under section 111.  Cost is among the factors the Agency has long explicitly considered in setting standards under section 111 of the Act.

Fourth – America’s power sector is getting cleaner year after year by investing in more modern technologies.   Since President Obama took office, wind energy has tripled and solar has grown ten-fold. The Clean Power Plan will build on these current positive trends.  That means cleaner air in communities across the country, as well as a boost to our economy as we build the clean energy system of the future.

Finally – What’s next for MATS?   From the moment we learned of this decision, we were committed to ensuring that standards remain in place to protect the public from toxic emissions from coal and oil-fired electric utilities.  We will continue to work to make that happen.  There are questions that will need to be answered over the next several weeks and months as we review the decision and determine the appropriate next steps once that review is complete.  But as I’ve already noted, MATS is still in place and many plants have already installed controls and technologies to reduce their mercury emissions.

After nearly 45 years of implementing the Clean Air Act, there have been many more victories than defeats as we’ve worked together to clean the air and raise healthier children and families.  Despite the Supreme Court’s MATS decision, the agency remains confident that the progress we’ve made so far in improving air quality and protecting public health will continue.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Planes, Trains And Automobiles — And Safely Storing The Fuel That Moves Them  

This blog is not about a remake of the 1987 movie, Planes, Trains and Automobiles.  But, it’s about safely storing the vitally important fuel that moves planes, trains, and automobiles – as well as trucks, boats, and other vehicles.

Underground tanks are in every community: at gas stations and other non-retail facilities, such as school district bus fuel stations, police and fire stations, marinas, taxi fleet facilities, postal and delivery service facilities, and federal facilities such as military bases.

Did you know that even a small amount of petroleum released from underground storage tanks can contaminate land as well as groundwater?  And, groundwater is a source of drinking water for approximately 50 percent of United States’ citizens.

Because underground storage tanks are in every community, it’s important to ensure tanks don’t leak.  That’s why on Monday we issued revised regulations that will better prevent and detect underground storage tank releases. These revised underground storage tank regulations will ensure all tanks in the United States meet the same release protection standards.

The revised underground storage tank regulations improve EPA’s original 1988 tank regulation by closing some regulatory gaps, accommodating new technologies, and focusing on properly operating and maintaining existing underground storage tank systems. Many state tank programs already have some of these revised requirements in place.

For more about how we’re protecting our environment from underground storage tank leaks and the revised tank regulations, see our underground storage tank website

About the author:  Mathy Stanislaus is the Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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REC @ 25: Looking Back and Looking Ahead

I was recently a part of the official U.S. Delegation at a ministerial event celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the Regional Environmental Center (REC) for Central and Eastern Europe in Budapest, Hungary. I also had the honor to represent President George H.W. Bush at the REC’s opening ceremony in Budapest on a beautiful warm and sunny day in September 1990.

Hungarian President Janos Ader meets with EPA Acting Assistant Administrator Lek Kadeli, former EPA Administrator William Reilly, U.S. Ambassador to Hungary Colleen Bell, and others.

Hungarian President Janos Ader meets with EPA Acting Assistant Administrator Lek Kadeli, former EPA Administrator William Reilly, U.S. Ambassador to Hungary Colleen Bell, and others.

The importance of engaging environmental problems on a regional scale was underscored by the issues that Central and Eastern Europe confronted in the early 1990s. Enacting new laws, setting new standards for air and water pollution, beginning to listen to non-governmental groups, creating forums for consulting citizens—all of these were novel in the immediate post-Soviet era, and every democratically elected government had to learn how to implement them.

There was nothing simple or inevitable about the environmental commitments made and implemented among these countries trying to find their footing economically and politically. Leaders had to believe the environment was important and that environmental standards and laws would not impede economic growth. And while none of the problems faced in the early 1990s have disappeared, they have been managed and the environment is indisputably superior by all metrics.

Still, each generation must commit anew and reaffirm the rationale for environmental protection, including setting priorities together with neighboring countries. The political and environmental landscape of the region today does not display the same euphoria that we felt in 1990 after the Berlin Wall fell, but the transition has been remarkably successful. And just as the experience of engaging with similarly challenged officials from neighboring countries was a REC objective, so today it remains important.

When I spoke as head of the U.S. Delegation to the Earth Summit in Rio in June 1992, I chose to make the environmental commitments and achievements of the countries of Eastern Europe my principal theme. It was frankly the most significant and promising environmental success story of the decade. And the REC played an important unifying part in that story.

The REC has realized the hopes and aspirations of its founders and benefactors who are justly proud of its achievements and now celebrate its 25th Anniversary.

William K. Reilly worked under President George H. W. Bush (1989–1993) as the sixth administrator of EPA. While leading EPA, he initiated a program of environmental assistance to the countries of Eastern Europe as they established new environmental laws and institutions after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and he persuaded then-President George H.W. Bush to propose and fund the REC.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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The Facts About the Clean Water Rule and Agriculture

Farmers, ranchers, and foresters depend on clean water for their operations—so as EPA and the Army developed the Clean Water Rule, we listened carefully to concerns from the agricultural community. The agencies’ priority was not only to protect clean water while making sure we didn’t negatively impact agricultural operations, but also to find ways to help.

For more than a decade, producers have faced uncertainty about which waters were covered under the Clean Water Act, and which ones weren’t. Producers don’t need regulatory uncertainty that makes their work more difficult.

That’s why the rule we finalized last month reduces red tape and provides more certainty when it comes to coverage of the Clean Water Act. Instead of confusion and case-by-case determinations about which waters are covered, the rule sets physical, measurable boundaries for the first time about where Clean Water Act coverage begins and ends. The rule does not expand the waters covered—in fact, it will actually reduce the scope of waters protected by the Clean Water Act compared to the 1970’s, 80’s, and 90’s.

We want to make sure our nation’s original conservationists have the facts about the new Clean Water Rule, so they can judge how effectively we addressed their concerns.

Checking the Facts in the Rule

The Clean Water Act makes it illegal to pollute or destroy a covered water without a permit. If you’re not doing either of those things, you don’t need a permit. Also, many agricultural activities have long been exempted from permitting requirements. Our rule doesn’t change those exemptions — in fact, it expands exclusions for farming, ranching, and forestry.

The rule does not regulate most ditches. It excludes farm and stock ponds, and grassed waterways and does not regulate groundwater, shallow subsurface flows, or tile drains. It does not make changes to current policies on irrigation or water transfers or apply to erosion in a field. The Clean Water Rule does not regulate land use or affect private property rights. These statements are directly supported by the text of the rule and its preamble, as found in this fact check document.

Input from Agriculture Shaped the Rule

In developing the rule, EPA and the Army heard consistently from the agriculture community, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and state Departments of Agriculture. The message was clear that farmers, ranchers, and foresters are concerned about how regulations to protect clean water can interfere with their operations. They want to be treated as partners in efforts to conserve the nation’s critical water resources.

After releasing the proposed rule last year, the agencies held more than 400 meetings with stakeholders across the country to provide information, hear concerns, and answer questions. EPA officials visited farms in Arizona, Colorado, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Vermont. Feedback from the agricultural community led to several improvements in the final Clean Water RuleLearn more in this blog.

Exemptions are Maintained and Exclusions are Expanded

We have worked hard to listen to the agricultural community to ensure the new rule reduces regulatory requirements under the Clean Water Act and protects all existing permit exemptions for normal farming, ranching, and forestry practices. The rule spells out in black and white that it does not add any additional permitting requirements on agriculture. The rule not only maintains current exemptions, but it also expands regulatory exclusions. These added exclusions now carry the force of law through the Clean Water Rule. See exemptions and exclusions in this fact sheet.

Regulation of Ditches is Reduced

We heard the concerns about ditches and the need to reduce regulation of these manmade structures. In the final rule we made clear that we’re focusing on tributaries that could carry pollution downstream, not ditches. The rule says the Clean Water Act applies to ditches that flow year-round and excludes intermittent and ephemeral ditches, except the portion built in streams or wetlands. This reduces the regulation of ditches for agriculture. Here’s the language straight from the rule:
Rule Text § 230.3(s)(2)(iii): “The following are not ‘waters of the United States… the following ditches: (A) Ditches with ephemeral flow that are not a relocated tributary or excavated in a tributary. (B) Ditches with intermittent flow that are not a relocated tributary, excavated in a tributary, or drain wetlands. (C) Ditches that do not flow, either directly or through another water, into [a traditional navigable water, interstate water, or the territorial seas.]” You only need to meet one to be excluded, not all three.

Definition of Tributary Brings Predictability, Certainty

The features we use to define “tributaries” in the rule – bed, banks, and ordinary high water mark – are exactly the same features used today by the agencies to determine the presence of a tributary, but without the regulatory certainty of being in the rule. This reliance on these same features always used by the agencies, but now codified in the Clean Water Rule, will ensure the result will not be an expansion of jurisdiction but instead more predictability and consistency.

Landowners Do Not Bear the Burden of Proof

The rule does not place the onus on the landowner to prove that their ditch qualifies for an exclusion or exemption. Quite simply, it is the responsibility of the Army Corps or EPA to prove a water is covered by the Clean Water Act; it is not the responsibility of a landowner to prove it is not a protected water.

No Change in Permits for Pesticides and Fertilizers

The Clean Water Rule does not make any changes to permitting for pesticides and fertilizers. The use of pesticides and herbicides is covered under a general permit which requires farmers to follow label instructions. Application of fertilizers on farmlands does not typically require a permit. If anything, the exclusions for ditches will reduce the need for permits. Here is more information about the general permit.

Maps Can’t Reflect Coverage of Clean Water Act

Some have asked for maps of protected waters or generated their own maps. That fact is that maps are useful tools for water resource managers, but they do not on their own determine Clean Water Act jurisdiction. The agencies have never and are not now relying solely on maps to determine jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act. The Army Corps of Engineers determines jurisdiction using site specific information in response to individual requests.

Maps generated by external parties are typically inaccurate portrayals of jurisdiction under the Clean Water Rule and visually exaggerate the waters covered. Here are some reasons why:

  • Some maps have shown more wetlands than would be covered under the Clean Water Act. That’s because these maps use a different definition of wetlands that is broader than the Clean Water Act definition.
  • Some maps depict the entire floodplain as jurisdictional. Under the Clean Water Rule, only certain waters within the floodplain would be covered, never the land itself.
  • Some maps exaggerate the size of waterways. For streams to be visible on the maps they must be shown by a discernible line that is not to scale and does not represent the actual stream width. At national and state scales, this can give the false impression that most of the state is water.

Conversations with Agriculture will Continue

We remain committed to engaging in productive conversations with America’s farmers, ranchers and foresters. Farms across America depend on clean, reliable water for livestock, crops, and irrigation. And we depend on those farms and ranches. Our goal continues to be protecting clean water while ensuring agriculture, ranching, and forestry thrive.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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EJSCREEN: A Tool for Putting Environmental Justice into Action

By Matt Tejada

Too often, America’s low-income and minority communities bear the brunt of our country’s pollution. These environmental and public health threats make it harder for kids with asthma to learn in school, and for people impacted from pollution to lead active and healthy lives.

There are many ways EPA is working to protect these overburdened communities. For the past two years, we’ve been using a screening and mapping tool called EJSCREEN to inform our work, whether its grant writing, policy decisions or enforcement. Today we take an important step forward by sharing EJSCREEN with the public, to broaden its impact, provide greater transparency in how environmental justice is considered, and to foster collaboration with partners.

EJSCREEN uses high resolution maps combined with demographic and environmental data to highlight places that may have higher environmental burdens and vulnerable populations. EJSCREEN can help you better understand the pollution burdens facing a community that has a high proximity to traffic, for instance, and also has a high proportion of people who are in poor health, have reduced access to care, lack resources or language skills, or are at susceptible life stages. This kind of data is essential for government agencies, non-profits, and any stakeholder working to make a positive impact in American communities affected by pollution.

EJSCREEN combines environmental and demographic information into “EJ indexes,” giving the user a way to measure impacts to better understand areas in need of environmental protection, health care access, housing, infrastructure improvement, community revitalization, and climate resilience.

We’ve been collaborating with our state and local partners for a while to make sure EJSCREEN is robust and actionable. Many states and stakeholder groups are eager to use it, but EPA is not mandating that state governments or other entities use the tool or its underlying data. Further, the tool shouldn’t be used as a basis for identifying areas as EJ communities, nor is it an appropriate standalone tool for making a risk assessment. It’s meant to inform decision making, so we all can make more complete and appropriate decisions in our goals to protect against pollution.

We hope you will participate in using the tool and provide us feedback on how we can make it better, both for use within EPA’s work but also for use by everyone in the United States.

About the author: Matthew Tejada is the Director of EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Chemical Facility Safety and Security: A Shared Commitment

Chemical-Facility imageThe small town of West, Texas will never be the same after April 17, 2013, when the community was deeply shaken by a powerful explosion at the West Fertilizer Company storage and distribution facility that killed fifteen people and injured more than 160.  Investigators found that the explosion was caused by improperly stored Ammonium Nitrate.

In response, President Obama issued Executive Order 13650 Improving Chemical Facility Safety and Security in August of 2013. The order asks the Tri-Chairs of the Chemical Facility Safety and Security Working Group (the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Labor, and the Environmental Protection Agency), to work closely together to improve the of safety and security of chemical facilities across the country. The chairs have worked diligently over the past two years on the following areas:

  • Strengthening community planning and preparedness;
  • Enhancing federal operation coordination;
  • Improving data management;
  • Modernizing policies and regulations; and
  • Incorporating stakeholder feedback and developing best practices.

The working group knows that stakeholders are essential to managing and mitigating the risks of potential chemical facility hazards and has engaged in a robust stakeholder outreach effort to identify successes and best practices.  This outreach included engagement across all levels of government, with owners and operators, industry associations, labor organizations, and communities affected by chemical plant disasters.

One year ago, the working group released a status report to the president, entitled Actions to Improve Chemical Facility Safety and Security – A Shared Commitment, which summarized the Working Group’s actions, findings and lessons learned, challenges, and short and long-term priority actions to that point. Last year’s status report was a milestone, not an end-point.

Today we are releasing another update to highlight actions that have been taken since the release of the Final Status Report last year. These highlights include:

  • Developing an on-line training module on the key requirements under Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA);
  • Initiating a multi-organization working group to identify a list of government approved training courses for first responders and emergency planners, Training Repository;
  • Institutionalizing a Federal Working Group to improve communication and coordination between agencies;
  • Establishing Regional Working Groups in all ten Federal Regions;
  • Incorporating chemical facility safety and security data into the EPA’s facility registry service (FRS);
  • Reissuing the Chemical Advisory: Safe Storage, Handling, and management of Ammonium Nitrate to incorporate stakeholder comments and concerns and the latest practices in ammonium nitrate safety;
  • Hosted a public webinar to share updates on EO activities taken in November 2014 with the next webinar planned for June 19, 2015; and
  • Launching actions to modernize OSHA’s Process Safety Management Standard and EPA’s Risk Management Program.

Safety and security are a shared commitment. We are committed to preventing more incidents like those in West, Texas, and ensuring that every worker comes home to their family safe and healthy at the end of every shift.

About the authors:
Mathy Stanislaus is the Assistant Administrator for the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response at EPA.
Caitlin Durkovich is the Assistant Secretary at the Department of Homeland Security National Protection and Programs Directorate, Office of Infrastructure Protection.
David Michaels is Assistant Secretary at the Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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A Big Step for Clean Water

by Tom Damm

View of the Schuylkill River into Philadelphia

View of the Schuylkill River into Philadelphia

A few times a week, I take a lunchtime walk along the nearby Schuylkill River in Philadelphia, keeping a pace somewhere between those out for a stroll and others who seem like they’re late for an appointment.

Though I often think about what’s on my work plate when I get back to the office or my dinner plate when I get home, I do take the time to look out on the Schuylkill and consider the efforts of EPA and its partners to make the river cleaner.

Last week, the river and its sister waterways around the country got another lift – this time from the new Clean Water Rule finalized by EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers.  In their recent blog, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works Jo-Ellen Darcy highlighted a number of reasons we need the new rule.

We need clean water upstream to have healthy communities downstream. The Clean Water Rule protects streams and wetlands that form the foundation of our nation’s water resources. They feed the rivers, lakes, bays, and coastal waters that our health and economy depend on – rivers like the Schuylkill, a source of drinking water for 1.5 million people.

One of every three Americans get their drinking water from streams lacking clear protection from pollution – the Clean Water Rule changes that.

The rule helps clear up confusion caused by two Supreme Court cases about what waters are – and are not – protected under the Clean Water Act.  Drafters of the rule relied on the latest science and extensive public input.

The EPA and Army Corps leaders noted the benefits of the rule in countering the impacts of climate change, supporting the economy and agriculture, and protecting public health.

Something more to consider as I dodge the mid-day cyclists and joggers along the Schuylkill.


About the Author: Tom Damm has been with EPA since 2002 and now serves as communications coordinator for the region’s Water Protection Division.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Driving responsible growth in biofuels

The renewable fuels standards (RFS) program, established by Congress in 2007, aims to increase the volumes of renewable biofuels that are used in our transportation system, helping the United States move away from fossil fuels to less carbon-intensive fuels. The program seeks to reduce the pollution that contributes to climate change and improve energy security. When Congress passed the RFS, it set annual targets for biofuel use that increase every year through 2022. Congress also gave EPA the authority to adjust those target volumes downward in certain situations.

Today we proposed renewable fuel volume standards that establish a path for ambitious yet responsible growth in biofuels. These standards would provide the certainty the marketplace needs to further develop low-carbon fuels over the coming years. The proposed volumes reflect two realities:

    • One – that Congressional intent is clear that renewable fuel production and use should grow over time. We have already seen success – renewable fuels are being produced and used in increasing volumes. This is true for both ethanol and biodiesel, and recently we have seen important developments in cellulosic biofuels (produced from sources like corn stover), which result in the lowest greenhouse gas emissions.
    • And two – that there are real limits to the actual amounts of biofuels that can be supplied to consumers at this time. These limits include lower than expected demand for gasoline and constraints in supplying ethanol at greater than 10 percent of gasoline.

You may often hear of the “E10 blendwall.” This term refers to the amount of ethanol that could be used if all gasoline contains 10 percent ethanol and there are no higher-level ethanol blends, such as E15 or E85. Today, nearly every gallon of gasoline sold in the United States contains 10 percent ethanol. Providing more ethanol in the system will require blends of fuel with more than 10 percent ethanol, such as E85 (fuel with up to 85 percent ethanol) or E15. While these options are growing, they are not yet available widely. So this proposal will push the renewable fuel market beyond the E10 blendwall, as Congress intended, but in a responsible manner. In developing the proposed standards, EPA considered a range of scenarios that would enable the market to achieve the proposed standards, including ones where use of E85 increases substantially.

Because of the limitations that exist today, we are using the authority Congress gave the agency to adjust the volumes below the annual targets set in the original 2007 legislation. These proposed volumes are achievable in the timeframes under consideration. At the same time, the volumes steadily increase every year, reflecting Congress’s clear intent to drive up the nation’s use of renewable fuel.

Indeed, the proposed 2016 numbers will incentivize real growth in the market.

    • The proposed 2016 standard for cellulosic biofuel – those fuels with the lowest GHG emissions profile – is more than 170 million gallons higher than the actual 2014 volumes. That’s six times higher than actual 2014 volumes.
    • The proposed 2016 standard for total renewable fuel is nearly 1.5 billion gallons more, or about 9 percent higher, than the actual 2014 volumes.
    • The proposed 2016 standard for advanced biofuel is more than 700 million gallons27 percent – higher than the actual 2014 volumes.
    • Biodiesel standards grow steadily over the next several years, increasing every year to reach 1.9 billion gallons by 2017. That’s 17 percent higher than the actual 2014 volumes.

We are committed to increasing the use of renewable fuels through the RFS. At the same time, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Energy are building programs that support biofuels, biofuel infrastructure and the many U.S. companies leading the way in this industry. We know that opportunities lie ahead for the biofuels sector as we work through the challenges we face in transforming the nation’s fuel supply. These proposals reflect the Administration’s confidence that renewable fuels can continue to steadily advance and grow.

2Adv BioFuel_graph_update2_528

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Protecting Regional Waters

Water bodies come in many shapes and sizes. As EPA and the U.S. Army developed the Clean Water Rule, the agencies relied on the latest science to determine what water bodies should be protected. Streams and their wetlands that clearly have an impact on the health of downstream waters are protected by the rule. In particular regions of the country, there are unique water bodies that are also scientifically shown to influence the health of downstream waters and therefore may be protected under the Clean Water Rule. These unique water bodies are critical resources for the surrounding communities – for fishing, hunting, and recreation; for their ability to filter pollution to streams and rivers; and reduce flooding.

Newprairie-potholesPrairie potholes are a complex of glacially formed wetlands, found from central Iowa through western Minnesota, eastern South Dakota, and North Dakota. Potholes accumulate and retain water, reducing floodwaters and filtering pollution before it goes downstream into nearby streams and rivers. Prairie potholes are also rich habitat for plants and wildlife. In particular they are vital to hunting in America, as they play host to 18 species of waterfowl. They are also are popular for birdwatching, with 96 species of songbirds, 36 species of waterbirds, 17 species of raptors and 5 species of upland game birds.

NEWdelmarva-bayCarolina and Delmarva bays are ponded wetlands along the Atlantic coastal plain from northern Florida to New Jersey. Carolina bays are most abundant in North Carolina and South Carolina, while those found in the Delmarva Peninsula are commonly referred to as Delmarva bays. Bays typically are close to each other or to streams, and connect to each other and to downstream waters in large rain events. Carolina bays and Delmarva bays filter out nitrogen, which reduces the pollution entering groundwater and flowing downstream. These bays are important nursery grounds for amphibians and reptiles.

NEWpocosinPocosins are evergreen shrub and tree-dominated landscapes that are found from Virginia to northern Florida, but mainly in North Carolina. Typically, there is no standing water present in these peat-accumulating wetlands, but a shallow water table leaves the soil saturated for much of the year. The slow movement of water through pocosins removes nutrient pollution and acidifies the water. This water is slowly released to downstream waters and estuaries, where it helps to maintain the proper salinity, nutrients, and acidity.

NewVernal-PoolsVernal pools are shallow, seasonal wetlands that accumulate water during colder, wetter months and gradually dry up during warmer, drier months. In California they typically occur as complexes of pools, connected to each other and to seasonal streams. Vernal pools are rich in biodiversity and wildlife moves between the pool complexes and streams and other downstream waters. With climate change increasing the severity of drought in the West and specifically California, the protection of upstream water resources is even more essential.

NEWMatagorda-potholesAlong the Gulf of Mexico from western Louisiana to south Texas, freshwater wetlands occur as a mosaic of depressions, ridges, flats, and mounds on the landscape. Texas coastal prairie wetlands are locally abundant and function together to impact the health of downstream water bodies. Collectively as a complex, Texas coastal prairie wetlands can be connected to each other and contribute flow to downstream waters. Cumulatively, these wetlands control nutrient release levels and rates to downstream waters, as they capture, store, transform, and pulse releases of nutrients to those waters.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Protecting Clean Water While Respecting Agriculture

Rule does not create any new permitting requirements, maintains all previous exemptions and exclusions

By Administrator Gina McCarthy and Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works Jo-Ellen Darcy

Today, EPA and the Army finalized a rule under the Clean Water Act to protect the streams and wetlands we depend on for our health, our economy, and our way of life.

The Clean Water Act has protected our health for more than 40 years—and helped our nation clean up hundreds of thousands of miles of waterways that were choked by industrial pollution, untreated sewage, and garbage for decades.

But Supreme Court cases in 2001 and 2006 put protection of 60 percent of our nation’s streams and millions of acres of wetlands into question. At the same time, we understand much more today about how waters connect to each other than we did in decades past. Scientists, water quality experts, and local water managers are better able than ever before to pinpoint the waters that impact our health and the environment the most.

Members of Congress, farmers, ranchers, small business owners, hunters, anglers, and the public have called on EPA and the Army to make a rule to clarify where the Clean Water Act applies, and bring it in line with the law and the latest science. Today, we’re answering that call.

Every lake and every river depends on the streams and wetlands that feed it—and we can’t have healthy communities downstream without healthy headwaters upstream. The Clean Water Rule will protect streams and wetlands and provide greater clarity and certainty to farmers, all without creating any new permitting requirements for agriculture and while maintaining all existing exemptions and exclusions.

The agencies did extensive outreach on the Clean Water Rule, hosting more than 400 meetings across the country and receiving more than a million public comments. EPA officials visited farms in Arizona, Colorado, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Vermont.

Our nation’s original conservationists—our farmers, ranchers, and foresters—were among the most crucial voices who weighed in during this process. Farmers have a critical job to do; our nation depends on them for food, fiber, and fuel, and they depend on clean water for their livelihoods.

Normal farming and ranching—including planting, harvesting, and moving livestock—have long been exempt from Clean Water Act regulation, and the Clean Water Rule doesn’t change that. It respects producers’ crucial role in our economy and respects the law. We’d like give a few more specifics on our final rule, starting with what it doesn’t do.

  • The rule doesn’t add any new permitting requirements for agriculture.
  • It doesn’t protect new kinds of waters that the Clean Water Act didn’t historically cover. It doesn’t regulate most ditches and excludes groundwater, shallow subsurface flows, and tile drains. And it doesn’t change policy on irrigation or water transfers.
  • It doesn’t touch land use or private property rights. The Clean Water Rule only deals with the pollution and destruction of waterways.
  • Again, our rule doesn’t touch long-standing Clean Water Act exemptions and exclusions for agriculture. It specifically recognizes the crucial role farmers play and actually adds exclusions for features like artificial lakes and ponds, water-filled depressions from construction, and grass swales.

What the rule does is simple: it protects clean water, and it provides clarity on which waters are covered by the Clean Water Act so they can be protected from pollution and destruction.

Feedback from the agricultural community led us to define tributaries more clearly. The rule is precise about the streams being protected so that it can’t be interpreted to pick up erosion in a farmer’s field. The rule says a tributary has to show physical features of flowing water to warrant protection.

We also got feedback that our proposed definition of ditches was confusing. We’re only interested in the ones that act like tributaries and could carry pollution downstream—so we changed the definition in the final rule to focus on tributaries. So ditches that are not constructed in streams and that flow only when it rains are not covered.

We’ve also provided certainty in how far safeguards extend to nearby waters—the rule sets physical, measurable limits for the first time. For example, an adjacent water is protected if it’s within the 100-year floodplain and within 1,500 feet of a covered waterway. By setting bright lines, agricultural producers and others will know exactly where the Clean Water Act applies, and where it doesn’t.

Farmers and ranchers work hard every day to feed America and the world. In this final rule, we’ve provided additional certainty that they’ll retain all of their Clean Water Act exemptions and exclusions—so they can continue to do their jobs, and continue to be conservation leaders.
We appreciate everyone’s input as we’ve worked together to finalize a Clean Water Rule that keeps pollution out of our water, while providing the additional clarity our economy needs. Learn more here.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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