EPA redraws federal water pollution boundaries

Published: Feb. 20, 2019 at 3:56 PM EST
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The White House wants to limit government’s reach into the rivers and streams in your backyard.

Here’s how:

Environmental Protection Agency leaders wants to redefine which waterways fall under federal pollution controls. Lakes, ponds, and most rivers would still be covered. But, the administration wants out of thousands of small streams, wetlands, and drainage ditches.

Federal water pollution rules are doing more to frustrate than protect the environment according to the country’s top environmental cop. Acting E.P.A. Director Andrew Wheeler said it’s time to re-write the standard so that complex regulations don’t fall on everyday Americans. “What we’re trying to do is provide certainty to the American public on what is and is not a federal waterway,” he said in a one-on-one interview.

Wheeler said pulling back federal government regulations will simplify construction permitting for homeowners. While the law and Obama-era rules largely exempted agriculture, he said farmers are still at risk of stumbling into big federal penalties. Wheeler insists the roll back won’t lead to more pollution – because state laws offer adequate protection.

“We are fulfilling president Trump’s agenda, he told me to clean up the air, continue cleaning up the water and continue provide regulatory relief to expand the economy and jobs and that’s what we’re doing here,” Wheeler said.

Neither the administration, nor opponents could give us any real sense of how much land and water would be removed from federal pollution protection, or give us a sense of how often the current regulations are enforced.

“There’s not a lot of evidence that much science went into the development of this rule,” said Ryan Richards, a senior policy analyst at the left-leaning Center for American Progress.

Richards argues the administration’s rewrite doesn’t make the rule any clearer. And, he said it comes with a steep environmental cost, “you’re going to see really large numbers of wetlands and streams be removed from any form of protection that would minimize the pollution you would see.”

Legal challenges blocked the Obama-era regulation from taking effect in about half the country – and new lawsuits are expected to follow this administration’s rewrite.

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