Clean Waters Ruling One Step Closer to Finalization

By Colleen Hartel

Landscape Image Credit: Environmental Protection Agency

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have recently taken steps to finalize their Waters of the United States rule by sending the final rule to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for review.

The Waters of the United States Rule is aimed at more clearly defining which water bodies are included in the Clean Water Act, which primarily governs water pollution within the country. The ruling comes after several Supreme Court decisions created debate and uncertainty about which waters fall under the jurisdiction of the act. Clarifying the definitions of the streams and wetlands covered by the act will better outline protection for aquatic and wetland ecosystems and habitat.

The agencies initially published the proposed rule in April 2014 and received over one million public comments, which were used to revise the draft ruling.

TWS submitted comments on the proposed rule, suggesting changes to specific language to strengthen the rule’s basis in current scientific information. Other sportsmen’s and conservation groups, such as the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, have also provided feedback on the rule.

The EPA has stated that the most recent draft of the rule better gives special consideration to “other waters,” such as the prairie potholes that support the majority of North America’s waterfowl populations.

Supporters of the rule say the clarification will end inconsistent and drawn-out processes and better protect aquatic resources, but the rule has been the subject of criticism by some lawmakers. Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee Chairman Bob Gibbs (R-OH) along with House Transportation Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA) have planned to unveil a measure soon, which would require the rule to have greater state and local engagement.

The House also recently released the energy and water programs spending bill for Fiscal Year 2016, which included a policy rider that would block use of funds by the Army Corps of Engineers to implement the rule. The bill will be marked up and debated over the coming weeks.

OMB has at least 90 days to review the draft and can request revisions or move the rule forward to be finalized and put into effect.

Sources: Energy & Environment Daily (April 13, 2015), EPA Connect (April 6, 2015), Federal Register (April 21, 2014), Greenwire (April 14, 2015), TRCP Press Release (April 7, 2015)

Colleen Hartel is a policy intern at The Wildlife Society as part of the Government Affairs & Partnership program.

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