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US senators seek to rein in EPA water regulations

29 Mar 2012, 8.29 pm GMT

US senators seek to rein in EPA water regulations

Washington, 29 March (Argus) — Surface coal miners in Appalachia may get regulatory relief if a new bill passes the US Senate.

A group of Republican senators is cosponsoring legislation that would bar the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from acting on guidance it has proposed identifying what waters fall under the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act.

Senator John Barrasso (R-Wyoming), along with 29 other Republicans, yesterday introduced the “Preserve the Waters of the United States Act,” which blocks the secretary of the Army and the EPA administrator from finalizing the guidance, published in the Federal Register last May, or making a rule based on any substantially similar guidance regarding the scope of the Clean Water Act.

The bill is the latest attempt by congressional Republicans to limit EPA's regulatory activities under the Clean Water Act. Last July, the Republican-controlled House passed the Clean Water Cooperative Federalism Act of 2011, HR 2018, which would amend the Clean Water Act to limit the EPA administrator's authority to supersede state agencies in determining water quality standards or approving permits, such as National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits.

NPDES permits, as well as Section 404 dredge and fill permits under the Clean Water Act, are required for proposed surface mining projects in Appalachia. EPA has previously come under fire for making decisions based on guidance rather than final rules and “systematically slowing the pace of permit evaluations,” according to senator James Inhofe (R-Oklahoma), a cosponsor of the Senate bill.

The guidance the bill would block applies to all Clean Water Act programs and would result in an increased need for section 404 and NPDES permits, the senators said, blocking economic growth and putting undue burden on state agencies.

“The Obama EPA's proposed water guidance greatly expands the Clean Water Act's scope through a slew of new and expanded definitions,” Inhofe said. “These kinds of changes, and passing along more unfunded mandates to state and local governments, should never be done via a guidance document.”

EPA's guidance would increase US Army Corps of Engineers jurisdictional determinations by as much as 17pc, change the states' responsibilities and duties under the Clean Water Act and change how individual citizens are governed by the act, Inhofe said.

Barrasso called the guidance an “unprecedented Washington power grab” and said it would “pre-empt state and local governments, farmers and ranchers, small business owners and homeowners from making local land and water use decisions.”

EPA says that the guidance will only apply to waters that have historically been protected under the Clean Water Act — not extend federal protection to new waters. But the senators disagree. They say the guidance “makes substantial additions,” including such water features as ditches, groundwater, potholes and gutters for the first time.

“The guidance will provide more predictable and consistent procedures for identifying waters and wetlands protected under the Clean Water Act,” EPA said. Most of the 230,000 public comments on the draft guidance “recognized the importance of effective implementation of the Clean Water Act to protect human health and water quality,” according to the agency. EPA also said that Congress, states and various organizations, including both environmental and industrial groups, have asked both it and the corps for a rulemaking to further clarify Clean Water Act requirements in light of Supreme Court decisions.

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