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Controversial New Federal Water Rule "Modest Progress"

PHOTO: The EPA's new rule clarifies which waterways are covered by the Clean Water Act. Conservation groups say it should be a step forward for Appalachia. Photo courtesy Wild Virginia.
PHOTO: The EPA's new rule clarifies which waterways are covered by the Clean Water Act. Conservation groups say it should be a step forward for Appalachia. Photo courtesy Wild Virginia.
June 1, 2015

FRANKFORT, Ky. - The Obama administration has released a new rule clarifying which waterways are covered by the Clean Water Act. Many area conservationists say it's a promising step. Two court decisions have, in a sense, muddied the waters about which protections apply to a number of streams, creeks and wetlands.

Critics are describing the "Waters of the US" rule as a federal power grab. But Cindy Rank, chairwoman with the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, says it's pretty limited and just makes clear which waterways are protected.

"Waters that we have always protected," she says. "It just will make it clearer after the confusion of the past several years about these small headwater streams and wetlands, and connected areas."

The EPA says the new rule clarifies its jurisdiction on only three percent of the country's surface area, all of which had been covered by the Clean Water Act before. Rank points out that it also reinforces existing agriculture exemptions. She says farmers are being misled about the ways this might benefit them.

"What the Clean Water Act does is protect the waters they are dependent on for their crops, their animals and their livelihoods. Whoever misleads them are being very disingenuous," says Rank.

The coal industry says the new rule will make it impossible for them to operate. But Sean Clarkson with Backcountry Hunters and Anglers says they've exaggerating. He points out they've cried wolf about clean-water protections before.

"Just because it's cheaper for them to do something that causes everyone else far more problems long term doesn't mean it's the right answer," says Clarkson.

The Environmental Protection Agency says while finalizing the rule, the agency and the Army Corps of Engineers held more than 400 public meetings and considered more than a million public comments.

It says nearly 90 percent of public comments on the rule favored it. But some farm and mining groups and real estate developers say the new rule hampers their operations by controlling every tiny stream and wetland.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - KY