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Newhouse, Western Caucus blast Biden admin for new Clean Water Act rule

by CHARLES H. FEATHERSTONE
Staff Writer | December 31, 2022 8:29 AM

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Members of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Western Caucus are expressing shock and criticism at a recent change in federal rules defining which U.S. water bodies are subject to the Clean Water Act, which was announced by the administration of President Joe Biden on Friday, just before the New Year weekend.

“This rule is yet another attack on rural America,” said Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Yakima, chairman of the Western Caucus. “Western Caucus members and the rural communities we represent have consistently called on the administration to provide regulatory certainty for farmers, ranchers, small businesses and landowners.”

Newhouse, in a statement issued by the caucus on Friday, said the rule was premature given the U.S. Supreme Court is considering a case brought by an Idaho couple challenging the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to define what constitutes “waters of the United States” under the Clean Water Act passed by Congress in 1972.

According to a White House press release issued Friday, the EPA has issued a order final broadening the definition of “waters of the United States” by reimposing the definition in use in 2015, before the administration of President Donald J. Trump narrowed and restricted it. In the press release, the White House said the goal is to restore fundamental protections for all navigable waters in the United States as well as any tributaries and upstream water sources, to restore the protections Congress intended when it wrote the Clean Water Act.

“This final rule recognizes the essential role of the nation’s water resources in communities across the nation,” said Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works Michael Connor. “The rule’s clear and supportable definition of waters of the United States will allow for more efficient and effective implementation and provide the clarity long desired by farmers, industry, environmental organizations, and other stakeholders.”

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers owns and operates hydroelectric dams and flood control projects across the country, including the Pacific Northwest.

The Clean Water Act prohibits the discharge of pollutants into navigable waters, defined in the act as “the waters of the United States, including territorial seas,” the White House press release said. However, the law does not define “waters of the United States,” effectively leaving that up to both agency rule-making and the federal courts.

In a fact sheet outlining the rule change published on Friday, the EPA said “waters of the United States” will include lakes, rivers, seacoasts, any body of water that crosses a state boundary, tributaries of rivers and streams, wetlands, beaver ponds, and any body of water that doesn’t fit any other category.

The fact sheet also includes a number of water bodies that are not included in the description of waters of the United States, including wetlands drained and converted to farmland prior to 1985, drainage ditches, sewage lagoons and wastewater treatment centers, artificial lakes and ponds and swimming pools.

“Why does every Democrat administration need to make a rule giving the federal government more power over farming and private property?” said Rep. Doug LaMalfa, R-Calif., caucus vice chair. “The federal government doesn’t need to regulate puddles, ditches, seasonal creeks or culverts. All this rule does is make it more difficult to grow food or build anything.”

Charles H. Featherstone can be reached at cfeatherstone@columbiabasinherald.com.

photo

File photo

The frost and ice-covered shore of Moses Lake not far from the Moses Lake Sand Dunes in January 2022. New rules issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Friday will expand the definition of “waters of the United States” subject to regulation by the 1972 Clean Water Act.

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