On Tuesday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Army Corps) jointly released a proposed rule to clarify protections under the Clean Water Act for streams and wetlands. This rule could have significant impacts on business, development, agriculture and local government in Florida by redefining “waters of the United States” and thus the federal jurisdiction over these water bodies. According to the EPA, this rulemaking effort was requested by members of Congress, state and local officials, industry, agriculture, environmental groups, and the public in order to provide clarity of the law in the wake of Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006.
The proposed rule would expand jurisdiction to include ephemeral streams and man-made ditches, and will consider isolated waters as part of a consolidated system with adjacent water bodies. The agencies have indicated that they intend to launch a robust outreach effort, holding webinars and discussions around the country and gathering input needed to formulate a final rule.
The Wall Street Journal has reported that the rule may have a difficult time with Congress. Senator David Vitter, the ranking Republican on the Environment and Public Works Committee, has stated that the EPA was undertaking "one of the most significant private-property grabs in U.S. history" that would "give the federal government outright permitting authority over virtually any wet area in the country." Senator Mary Landrieu, the Energy Committee chair, also expressed concerns with the proposed rule, saying, "I will work with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to find a legislative solution to reverse this unfair, unwise and unnecessary decision."
The proposed rule will be open for public comment for 90 days after publication in the Federal Register. For a pre-publication copy of the proposed rule, see: http://www2.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2014-03/documents/wus_proposed_rule_20140325_prepublication.pdf
For more information generally, visit: www.epa.gov/uswaters.