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Clean Water Rule Challenged in Court and Congress

The Clean Water Rule would protect small streams and headwaters. Credit: Brubakerslegacy/Wikimedia Commons
The Clean Water Rule would protect small streams and headwaters. Credit: Brubakerslegacy/Wikimedia Commons
November 30, 2015

HARRISBURG, Pa. – The Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Water Rule has been put on hold by federal courts, but environmental groups fear some in Congress may try to overturn it with legislation.

The EPA finalized the rule last spring, reestablishing federal authority to protect smaller streams and wetlands from pollution under the 1972 Clean Water Act.

But some farmers, energy companies and others oppose the expansion of federal power.

David Imgrund, a sportsman advocate for the National Wildlife Federation, says they are wrong.

"It really didn't change any exemptions for agriculture,” he explains. “It didn't do any changes for erosional features or ground water or most ditches."

Congressional efforts to weaken the rule have so far failed to get the support of a veto-proof majority.

But advocates of a stronger Clean Water Act are concerned that opponents of the rule may attach a rider to a must-pass bill, such as the budget appropriation.

U.S. Supreme Court rulings in 2001 and 2006 created confusion about whether EPA authority included smaller streams, headwaters and wetlands.

The new rule is meant to make that clear. And as Imgrund points out, water quality needs to be protected at the source.

"The water flows downstream, so what happens upstream is eventually going to come downstream,” he explains. “And if you don't protect the smaller waters, you're just inviting troubles in the bigger waters."

Pennsylvania has more miles of rivers and streams than any other state but Alaska. They supply the drinking water for millions of people as well as habitat for native fish species.

The state has its own law, the Clean Streams Act that should protect the smaller streams even without the federal rule. But Imgrund says it's important to have backup.

"The reason that the federal protection is so important is because, in absence of the state having the money and the resources to actually enforce these laws, the feds have the clout to do that," he points out.

Comments submitted during the rule making process showed almost 90 percent of Americans favor the Clean Water Rule.



Andrea Sears, Public News Service - PA