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EPA Proposes Clearer Protections for Ohio Streams, Wetlands

PHOTO: The EPA is proposing a rule to close loopholes in the Clean Water Act that some estimates say leave 60 percent of Ohio’s streams and millions of acres of wetlands at risk of unchecked pollution and development. Photo credit: Ohio EPA.
March 26, 2014

COLUMBUS, Ohio - The Environmental Protection Agency is taking what some say is the biggest step forward for clean water in more than a decade. On Tuesday, the agency proposed a rule that would close what have been called loopholes in the Clean Water Act.

Christian Adams, a state associate for Environment Ohio, said it aims to resolve a long-running legal battle over how to apply the Clean Water Act to the nation's streams and wetlands.

"There were a couple of short-sighted, polluter-led Supreme Court challenges that redefined how waterways are considered under the Clean Water Act, because of some ambiguity in the original language of the law," he said. "This rule is closing that ambiguity, so it's clear that the Clean Water Act applies to all streams and waterways."

If it's approved, Adams said, the rule would lead to stricter pollution controls on more than 85,000 miles of waterways that currently are not protected from pollution or development by the Clean Water Act. A 90-day public comment period for the proposal is expected to begin in a few weeks.

Some agriculture, construction, mining and energy organizations have voiced concern that the new rule could increase the number of permits needed for their operations. However, Adams said, it's impossible to be certain that all waterways are safe from pollution if the smaller ones are not.

"The connections between our small streams and wetlands that feed and filter into waterways like the Olentangy to the Ohio (River) to Lake Erie rely upon what's going into those small streams and waterways upstream," Adams said.

By clarifying the Clean Water Act protections, he said, more than 5 million Ohioans who depend on clean sources of drinking water can be assured that it will be safe and healthy.

Information about the new rule is online at www2.epa.gov/uswaters.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - OH