Your Input is Shaping the Clean Water Rule — EPA Connect

April 7, 2015
Fen photo via the USFS

Fen photo via the USFS

From EPA Connect (Gina McCarthy and Jo-Ellen Darcy):

Water is the lifeblood of healthy people and healthy economies. We have a duty to protect it. That’s why EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are finalizing a Clean Water Rule later this spring to protect critical streams and wetlands that are currently vulnerable to pollution and destruction. On April 3 we sent the draft rule to the Office of Management and Budget for interagency review. Since it’s not final yet, we can’t speak to every detail. But the spirit of this rule boils down to three facts:

First, people depend on clean water: one in three Americans get their drinking water from streams currently lacking clear protection.

Second, our economy depends on clean water: manufacturing, farming, ranching, tourism, recreation, and other major economic sectors need clean water to function and flourish.

Third, our cherished way of life depends on clean water: healthy ecosystems support precious wildlife habitat and pristine places to hunt, fish, boat, and swim.

A year ago, our agencies released the draft Clean Water Rule. Since then, we’ve held more than 400 meetings across the country and received more than one million public comments from farmers, manufacturers, business owners, hunters and anglers, and others. The input helped us understand the genuine concerns and interests of a wide range of stakeholders and think through options to address them. In the final rule, people will see that we made changes based on those comments, consistent with the law and the science. We’ve worked hard to reach a final version that works for everyone – while protecting clean water.

We’re confident the final rule will speak for itself. But we can broadly share some of the key points and changes we’re considering.

  • Better defining how protected waters are significant. A key part of the Clean Water Rule is protecting water bodies, like streams and wetlands, which have strong impacts downstream – the technical term is “significant nexus.” We will respond to requests for a better description of what connections are important under the Clean Water Act and how agencies make that determination.
  • Defining tributaries more clearly. We’ve heard feedback that our proposed definition of tributaries was confusing and ambiguous, and could be interpreted to pick up erosion in a farmer’s field, when that’s not our aim. So we looked at ways to refine that definition, be precise about the streams we’re talking about, and make sure there are bright lines around exactly what we mean.
  • Providing certainty in how far safeguards extend to nearby waters. The rule will protect wetlands that are situated next to protected waterways like rivers and lakes, because science shows us they impact downstream waters. We will provide a clear definition about what waters are considered adjacent waters.
  • Being specific in the protection of the nation’s regional water treasures.
  • We heard concerns that the category we called “other waters” in the rule was too broad and undefined. We’ve thought through ways to be more specific about the waters that are important to protect, instead of what we do now, which too often is for the Army Corps to go through a long, complicated, case by case process to decide whether waters are protected.
  • Focusing on tributaries, not ditches. We’re limiting protection to ditches that function like tributaries and can carry pollution downstream—like those constructed out of streams. Our proposal talked about upland ditches, and we got feedback that the word “upland” was confusing, so we’ll approach ditches from another angle.
  • Preserving Clean Water Act exclusions and exemptions for agriculture. We will protect clean water without getting in the way of farming and ranching. Normal agriculture practices like plowing, planting, and harvesting a field have always been exempt from Clean Water Act regulation; this rule won’t change that at all.
  • Maintaining the status of waters within Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems. Some state and local governments raised questions about waters within these permitted systems. We listened carefully as we did not intend to change how those waters are treated and have considered ways to address this concern. We will also continue to encourage the use of creative solutions like green infrastructure and low-impact development, as many of these communities have advocated.
  • The public will see that the agencies listened carefully and made changes based on their input. That’s how an open and collaborative process works – so we can ensure everyone’s voices are heard, in a way that follows the law and the latest science. Our mission is to uphold that commitment to the American people.

    We may have different opinions on how we best protect our water resources, but we can all agree that clean water matters, and that it deserves our protection. The health of our people, our economies, and our way of life deserve protection. That’s what the Clean Water Rule is all about.

    About the authors: Gina McCarthy is the U.S. EPA Administrator and Jo-Ellen Darcy is the Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works).

    More Environmental Protection Agency coverage here.

    EPA dials back use of dangerous systemic pesticides

    April 4, 2015

    Originally posted on Summit County Citizens Voice:

    dfg Pesticide-free sunflowers thrive on this organic farm in Austria. @bberwyn photo.

    Agency says it won’t permit any new uses until pollinator safety studies are done

    By Bob Berwyn

    *More Summit Voice stories on pesticides and honey bees here

    FRISCO — Under persistent pressure from the public and environmental activists, the EPA today started dialing back the use of systemic neonicotinoid pesticides that have been implicated in the decline and collapse of honeybee colonies around the world.

    In a notice to entities using those pesticides, the EPA said it would not be accepting any new applications: “EPA believes that until the data on pollinator health have been received and appropriate risk assessments completed, it is unlikely to be in a position to determine that such uses would avoid “unreasonable adverse effects on the environment,” as required by federal environmental regulations, the agency wrote in its April 2 letter to registered users.

    View original 896 more words

    Environment: EPA to start tracking nanoscale chemicals

    April 4, 2015

    Originally posted on Summit County Citizens Voice:

    An engineered DNA strand between metal atom contacts could function as a molecular electronics device. Such molecules and nanostructures are expected to revolutionize electronics. Understanding the complex quantum physics involved via simulation guides design. For NASA, devices and sensors made from such molecules and nanostructures may be particularly useful when electrical power is limited. An engineered DNA strand between metal atom contacts could function as a molecular electronics device. Such molecules and nanostructures are expected to revolutionize electronics. Understanding the complex quantum physics involved via simulation guides design. For NASA, devices and sensors made from such molecules and nanostructures may be particularly useful when electrical power is limited.

    Agency proposes new reporting requirements under Toxic Substances Control Act

    Staff Report

    *More Summit Voice stories on nanoscale materials here

    FRISCO — The EPA wants to start compiling health and safety information for nanoscale chemicals and is proposing one-time reporting and recordkeeping requirements under the Toxic Substances Control Act.

    “Nanotechnology holds great promise for improving products, from TVs and vehicles to batteries and solar panels,” said Jim Jones, EPA’s assistant administrator for chemical safety and pollution prevention. “We want to continue to facilitate the trend toward this important technology.

    Despite the promise of nanoscale materials, scientists…

    View original 359 more words

    Environment: Methane emissions from pipelines declining

    April 4, 2015

    Originally posted on Summit County Citizens Voice:

    asdfg Concentrations of heat-trapping methane are increasing Earth’s atmosphere.

    Better materials and new regs drive drop in natural gas leakage

    Staff Report

    FRISCO — Despite recent findings of massive natural gas leakage from Boston’s distribution system, researchers say that, overall, methane emissions from cities and towns throughout the U.S. have decreased in the past 20 years — with significant variation by region.

    Altogether, natural gas leaks from pipelines and other facilities add up to the equivalent of emissions from about 7 million cars, a significant amount, but lower than EPA estimates.

    View original 559 more words

    EPA: We considered over 1,200 pieces of peer-reviewed & published scientific literature when writing the Clean Water Rule

    March 25, 2015

    Water dominates [Four States Ag Expo] talks — The Cortez Journal

    March 22, 2015

    Montezuma Valley

    Montezuma Valley

    From The Cortez Journal (Tobie Baker):

    Addressing less than 10 people at the Four States Ag Expo on Saturday, March 21, Colorado Representative J. Paul Brown said his top legislative issue was water storage. He’s introduced HB 1157, a bill to study water storage on the South Platte River.

    A member of the House Agriculture Committee, Brown said the bill had received broad support, even from environmentalists. He added that sending water from the state’s Western Slope via transcontinental diversion had to be addressed. Since 2010, 2.5 million acre feet of water has been sent out of state on the South Platte River, Brown said.

    “We don’t have anymore water to send down,” the District 59 representative proclaimed.

    Much of the American west has experienced drought-like conditions in 11 of the past 14 years. Scientists have warned the area could be entering a 35-year mega drought.

    “I keep hoping that we’re getting out of the drought,” said Brown. “I’m an eternal optimist. You have to be as a farmer.”

    A life-long sheep rancher in Ignacio, Colo., Brown said the worst drought he experienced came in 2002.

    “We don’t know what’s going to happen in the future, but storage is the answer,” said Brown.

    Brown added the agriculture committee had received lots of water concerns. He explained a balance was necessary between demands from environmentalists calling for more in-stream flow regulations, for example, and agriculture needs.

    “Agriculture is the second leading industry in state at $40 billion,” said Brown. “That’s why we need to store water on the South Platte.”

    During the informal agriculture summit discussion, one man questioned Environmental Protection Agency actions.

    “The EPA wants a complete power grab,” responded Brown.

    Indicating the federal government would control water collected in potholes if they could, Brown said the state would have to be remain vigilant against additional regulations and oversight.

    “When they control water, then they control you,” Brown warned.

    More 2015 Colorado Legislation coverage here.

    EPA’s McCarthy pledges to make Wotus rule ‘reasonable’ — Agri Pulse

    March 20, 2015

    Fen photo via the USFS

    Fen photo via the USFS

    From Agri Pulse (Philip Brasher):

    The Obama administration is promising to rewrite its proposed Clean Water Act rule to ensure that farmers have clear guidance about what streams, ditches and ponds will be regulated.

    Speaking to the National Farmers Union annual convention in Wichita, Kansas, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said the final rule is being prepared for White House review, and that the administration still intends to complete it this spring.

    EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers are working to tighten the definitions of ditches, tributaries and farm-field erosional features to narrow what areas fall under the law’s jurisdiction as “waters of the United States” (WOTUS), she said.

    “We are going to come out with a rule that is not only reasonable but implementable,” she said.

    The final rule will be accompanied by extensive guidance in a question-and-answer format that will include photographs to make it easier for farmers to understand what areas of their land might be regulated, she said.

    “You will have a catalog of your questions answered by putting together real-life things that you’re doing on your farms and ranches,” she said.

    The National Farmers Union, unlike the larger American Farm Bureau Federation, was initially supportive of the proposed rule when it was released a year ago but later began to raise concerns as well. In comments filed last fall, NFU pressed EPA to rewrite the definitions to make clear that the agency would not increase the law’s jurisdiction. NFU is scheduled to debate its policy positions on Tuesday.

    McCarthy told the group that the administration had bungled the rollout of the rule and should have called it the “Clean Water rule” rather than WOTUS. “Even if we had a less-than-ideal start, that doesn’t preclude us from getting this done right,” she said.

    She offered no specifics about the revised language. But she said the final rule would make clear, for example, that erosional features in a farmer’s field would be exempt and that the agency was considering rewriting the definition of “upland ditches” to make it less confusing.

    Officials also are “thinking through ways to be more specific” about the definition of “other waters,” which includes wetlands, a critical issue in the northern Plains, she said.

    She said the definition of tributary would be made clear that the rule would only cover “natural or constructed streams – the ones that could carry pollution downstream-which have to have the amount, duration and frequency of flow to look, act, and function like a tributary. They are the ones that we don’t want to pollute or destroy without thinking about how to mitigate impacts downstream.”


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