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April 7th, 2019
By Megan Chase
The EPA is proposing to change a key term in the Clean Water Act: “Waters of the United States” (WOTUS), which outlines water bodies that qualify for federal protection. Despite the fundamental need for clean water, the new definition of WOTUS would narrow the scope of federally protected waters.
In this 3-part blog series, we will explore:
The cuts to the Clean Water Act will have lasting impacts to our natural resources and communities, and we need your help! The EPA is accepting comments on the proposed rule until April 14th, and every comment will make a difference. You can submit comments through ProtectSouthernWater.org.
In defense of the repeal and replacement of the 2015 Clean Water Rule, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler claimed that the new definition of WOTUS will bring clarity to the question of which water bodies are protected. “Property owners will be able to stand on their property and determine what is federal water without having to hire outside professionals,” Wheeler said. These claims have been directed to farmers and other landowners who have found difficulty in discerning federally-protected waters on their properties, in part due to a fictional narrative that the Clean Water Rule requires permits for most farming practices.
Political opponents of the 2015 WOTUS definition claim that it requires farmers to obtain permits for simple farming activities, such as tilling land or moving livestock across streams — an argument that is completely unfounded. Practices like drainage ditch maintenance, discharging stormwater, constructing farm ponds and irrigation ditches on dry land, and pesticide use were never under threat. In reality, the 2015 Clean Water Rule preserved exemptions for farming practices that existed historically under the CWA.
By pushing the false narrative that the CWA threatens farmers, Administrator Wheeler distracts our attention from the real beneficiaries of these rollbacks: heavy-polluting industries and developers. Under the CWA, industrial and commercial developers must obtain approval before discharging into protected waters (i.e., WOTUS), and filling in wetlands. Similarly, wastewater management and sewage plants may not discharge into protected waters without permits, and facilities storing oil near protected waters must develop oil spill prevention plans.
These industries provide essential services to our communities. Regulating their discharge and activities around protected waters ensures the protection of drinking water sources and minimizes our exposure to harmful contamination. By removing protections for vast amounts of streams and wetlands, industrial dischargers would no longer have to apply for a permit or notify the public to pollute those waters.
The EPA’s proposal to cut longstanding environmental safeguards by removing protections for vast amounts of streams and wetlands leaves our natural resources vulnerable to unchecked pollution and our communities at risk. We simply cannot afford to lose these protections.
Megan Chase is the Clean Water Advocate at Upstate Forever and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.