The fight to preserve EPA’s authority enforce the Clean Water Act continues, with the Obama administration planning to announce a new water-quality rule as early as this week. Last year, EPA and the US Army Corps of Engineers released a version of the rule, saying that it doesn’t actually broaden the CWA’s original coverage but only clarifies what is protected. In large measure the rule is a response to two Supreme Court decisions that essentially limited EPA’s previous authority.
Industry groups, led by the American Farm Bureau Federation, are campaigning against the rule, and the US House and Senate are working to block or modify it. One senator called it an “outrageously broad new rule” that would regulate how private landowners, including farmers and ranchers, use their own land.As EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy has pointed out for months, however, the new rule preserves existing exemptions for agriculture. The two Supreme Court decisions—Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County v. US Army Corps of Engineers in 2001 and Rapanos v. United States in 2006—limited authority over some non-navigable waters, wetlands, and intermittent streams. In many cases these are tributaries to larger water bodies. McCarthy has says the decisions left about 60% of the nation’s streams and wetlands essentially unprotected, including sources of drinking water for about a third of the US population.