The Environmental Protection Agency moved Tuesday to clarify Clean Water Act protections for small streams and wetlands that had been thrown into question by Supreme Court decisions over the past decade.
The agency and the Army Corps of Engineers proposed a rule that would help farmers, ranchers, developers and others understand which streams and wetlands retain Clean Water Act protections. In particular, the rule is aimed at small waterways that may dry up during some seasons, exist only after rains or are adjacent to other waters.
“The proposed joint rule will provide greater consistency, certainty, and predictability nationwide by providing clarity for determining where the Clean Water Act applies and where it does not,” two senior EPA officials wrote on the agency’s blog.
Along with the rule, the EPA released a report that concluded that streams have important effects on downstream waterways regardless of their size or how often they flow. Wetlands and open waters in flood plains have similar effects. The report synthesized the results of 1,000 scientific, peer reviewed studies.
Environmental groups were cheered by the proposal, saying it would offer significant new protections to the nation’s water supply.
But Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), the ranking Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, released a statement saying that “EPA’s announcement today doesn’t solve anything, but merely takes another road to potentially expand its own jurisdiction through the Clean Water Act.”