Clean Water Fight Gets Slippery

WATER: ALL LIVING THINGS need it, and it’s become a contentious policy issue for the Environmental Protection Agency and environmental advocates, as well as the developers, farmers, and other stakeholders on the other side. Last year, the EPA proposed a rule known as the “Waters of the United States” which would be part of the Clean Water Act and which is slated to be formalized soon. According to The Hill, the rule would expand the types of water that fall under the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act.

However, the Center for Responsive Politics reports that opponents claim the rule is overly broad; it could be applied to virtually any body of water, including ones as small as ponds or even, supposedly, wet front yards. The EPA, on the other hand, claims that the rule is intended to protect vulnerable headwaters, which flow into other bodies of water and therefore are particularly impacted by pollution.

Naturally, the controversial rule has attracted significant lobbying; opponents include agricultural, mining, and electric utility interests, according to the Center. Some of these groups have spent more than a hundred million dollars opposing the rule.

But the EPA and its allies aren’t sitting idly by. According to the New York Times, the Obama administration gave EPA the go-ahead to mount a significant public outreach program in support of the rule, often in conjunction with supporters such as the Sierra Club, the Southern Environmental Law Center, and the Earth Justice Legal Defense Fund. Critics contend, however, that it’s both unusual and unseemly for an agency to conduct activities that are partisan in nature or in support of specific legislation.

The EPA has defended its actions, claiming that it violated no federal lobbying laws because it did not urge the public to lobby Congress, but rather conducted a public relations and awareness campaign. The Hill notes that the House passed a bill recently that would overturn the regulation, though it’s unlikely that the bill will ever be signed into law. Although it seems likely that the rule will take effect, the fight over the Waters of the United States and the Clean Water Act is far from over.

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