Thursday, January 23, 2020

EPA, Army Corps Announce Final Waters Of The U.S. Rule

On January 23, at an event at the US Army Corp of Engineers’ Pittsburgh District Office, EPA Regional Administrator Cosmo Servidio, USACE Deputy Commander Jon Klink, and Congressman Glenn Thompson (R-PA) celebrated the release of the final rule defining Waters of the U.S.
The rule provides a new, clear definition for “waters of the United States” -- delivering on President Trump’s promise to finalize a revised definition for “waters of the United States” that protects the nation’s navigable waters from pollution and will result in economic growth across the country.
“EPA and the Army are providing much needed regulatory certainty and predictability for American farmers, landowners and businesses to support the economy and accelerate critical infrastructure projects,” said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. “After decades of landowners relying on expensive attorneys to determine what water on their land may or may not fall under federal regulations, our new Navigable Waters Protection Rule strikes the proper balance between Washington and the states in managing land and water resources while protecting our nation’s navigable waters, and it does so within the authority Congress provided.”
“Having farmed American land myself for decades, I have personally experienced the confusion regarding implementation of the scope of the Clean Water Act,” said R.D. James, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works. “Our rule takes a common-sense approach to implementation to eliminate that confusion. This rule also eliminates federal overreach and strikes the proper balance between federal protection of our Nation’s waters and state autonomy over their aquatic resources. This will ensure that land use decisions are not improperly constrained, which will enable our farmers to continue feeding our Nation and the world, and our businesses to continue thriving.” 
“For decades, unclear regulatory definitions under the Clean Water Act have placed undue burdens on farmers, private landowners, and counties nationwide. Often, this ambiguity has left enforcement agencies, courts, and private citizens with contradictory, piecemeal opinions and drawn out regulatory reviews,” said Congressman Glenn Thompson (R-PA).  “In March 2017, President Trump took the first action at repealing the flawed WOTUS Rule. Today, the Navigable Waters Protection Rule will be a positive step in the right direction to bring clarity to the ‘navigable waters’ definition, while protecting states’ authority under the Clean Water Act.”
“This new definition recognizes the primary rights and responsibilities for the states to manage their land and water resources,” said EPA Regional Administrator Servidio. “Together, our efforts are continuing to ensure that America’s water protections – among the best in the world – remain strong while giving states and tribes the flexibility and certainty to manage their waters in ways that best protect their national resources and local economies.”
EPA said the Navigable Waters Protection Rule ends decades of uncertainty over where federal jurisdiction begins and ends. For the first time, EPA and the Army are recognizing the difference between federally protected wetlands and state protected wetlands. It adheres to the statutory limits of the agencies’ authority. 
It also ensures that America’s water protections remain strong, while giving our states and tribes the certainty to manage their waters in ways that best protect their natural resources and local economies.
The revised definition identifies four clear categories of waters that are federally regulated under the Clean Water Act: the territorial seas and traditional navigable waters; perennial and intermittent tributaries; certain lakes, ponds, and impoundments; and wetlands that are adjacent to jurisdictional waters. 
These four categories protect the nation’s navigable waters and the core tributary systems that flow into those waters. 
For example, the new rule helps ensure that territorial seas and traditional navigable waters, like the Atlantic Ocean and the Mississippi River; perennial and intermittent tributaries, such as College Creek, which flows to the James River near Williamsburg, Virginia; certain lakes, ponds, and impoundments, such as Children’s Lake in Boiling Springs, Pennsylvania; and wetlands that are adjacent to jurisdictional waters are protected.
This final action also details what waters are not subject to federal control, including features that only contain water in direct response to rainfall; groundwater; many ditches, including most farm and roadside ditches; prior converted cropland; farm and stock watering ponds; and waste treatment systems.
The final definition achieves the proper relationship between the federal government and states in managing land and water resources. 
The agencies’ Navigable Waters Protection Rule respects the primary role of states and tribes in managing their own land and water resources. 
All states-- including Pennsylvania-- have their own protections for waters within their borders and many already regulate more broadly than the federal government. 
This action gives states and tribes more flexibility in determining how best to manage their land and water resources while protecting the nation’s navigable waters as intended by Congress when it enacted the federal Clean Water Act.
EPA said this final action is informed by robust public outreach and engagement on the Navigable Waters Protection Rule, including pre-proposal engagement that generated more than 6,000 recommendations and approximately 620,000 comments received on the proposal. 
The final definition balances the input the agencies received from a wide range of stakeholders.
For more information, including a pre-publication version of the Federal Register notice and fact sheets, visit EPA’s Waters Of The United States webpage.
[Note: Both the Corbett and Wolf Administrations have said the rule, as draft earlier, will not have an impact in Pennsylvania because the state has had a stricter definition of waterways and wetlands to be protected for decades under state law.  A different federal definition, however, may cause confusion in the regulated community.]
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation issued this statement on the release of the final rule by Lisa Feldt, CBF’s Vice President of Environmental Protection and Restoration--
“This rule poses a dangerous threat to our efforts to restore the Chesapeake Bay and mitigate the effects of climate change.  By acting as natural pollution filters, wetlands are vital to improving water quality. Their marshy waters shelter many of the Bay’s birds and animals and provide our first line of defense against climate change by absorbing floodwaters and protecting local communities from storm surges.
“Recognizing the value of wetlands, in 2014 EPA and the other cleanup partners committed to creating, reestablishing, or restoring 235,000 acres of wetlands by 2025. Gutting federal protections for wetlands undermines that commitment and risks derailing our decades long restoration effort at a critical time.
“The Bay has made encouraging progress in the ten years since we adopted the Clean Water Blueprint, the science-based plan for restoring it to good health. But the recovery is fragile, and the 2025 implementation deadline is approaching fast. We need the Trump administration to lead the way, not sabotage our efforts to save this national treasure.”
For more on Chesapeake Bay-related issues in Pennsylvania, visit the Chesapeake Bay Foundation-PA webpage.  Click Here to sign up for Pennsylvania updates (bottom of left column).  Click Here to support their work.
Also visit the Keystone 10 Million Trees Partnership to learn how you can help clean water grow on trees.
The Nature Conservancy released the following statement from Chief External Affairs Officer Lynn Scarlett regarding the administration’s finalization of a rule defining “Waters of the United States”--
“Streams, rivers, lakes and wetlands are critical to the well-being of people and nature. These resources provide valuable—and often irreplaceable—sources of drinking water and habitat for fish and wildlife, and they power local economies and thriving communities. All of these benefits depend on the foundational safeguards embodied in the Clean Water Act.
“The action taken today by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers weakens the Clean Water Act and is contradicted by science that tells us small streams and wetlands are critical to the health of communities and waterways. To deliver on the basic purpose of the Clean Water Act—to restore and maintain the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the nation’s waters—we need the rules for protecting water quality to be rooted in science. With science foundations, we can protect the waters and wetlands that meet the needs of our communities.
“As a landowner and member of the regulated community, The Nature Conservancy continues to support efforts to improve the Clean Water Act’s permitting process on the ground. However, permitting efficiencies should not come at the expense of water quality—which stands to harm vulnerable populations the most—or the many benefits clean water provides. We need to return to the kind of science-based implementation the Clean Water Act has had since its passage in 1972 to strongly protect the waters and wetlands that help meet the many needs of our communities, our economy and our nation.”
For more information on programs, initiatives and other special events, visit the PA Chapter of The Nature Conservancy website.  Click Here to sign up for updates from TNC, Like them on Facebook, Follow them on Twitter and Join them on InstagramClick Here to become a member.
The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership had these comments on the final rule--
“This announcement flies in the face of all the hunters and fishermen who have contacted the EPA saying they oppose this decision,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “These rollbacks undermine the intent of the Clean Water Act, which has a proven track record of protecting America’s waters and supporting healthy habitat.”
The new rule will leave roughly half of the nation’s wetlands and almost one out of five of its stream miles without federal protection from pollution. In drier western states, as many of 90 percent of stream miles will not be protected from being polluted.  
Congress passed the Clean Water Act in 1972, creating a federal regulatory floor for pollution control across the country, as well as a partnership with states to address the many threats to our nation’s waters. 
This was important because states didn't have the resources necessary to ensure clean water.  
Now the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers are asserting that for all of the streams and wetlands they will no longer protect, states could step in, if they want, even as the agencies acknowledge that many states won't have the resources to do so.  
In a national poll, 93 percent of hunters and anglers say they believe the Clean Water Act has benefited the country. Additionally, 80 percent of sportsmen and women said Clean Water Act protections should apply to headwater streams and wetlands. Additionally, 92 percent believe that we should strengthen or maintain current clean water standards, not relax them.
For more information on programs, initiatives and how you can get involved, visit the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership website.
[Posted: January 23, 2020]  PA Environment Digest

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