WASHNGTON, D.C. – Members of the Small Business Committee in the House of Representatives urged the Environmental Protection Agency to go back to the drawing board on a proposed rule aimed at clarifying bodies of water that fall under the Clean Water Act.
In March, the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposed a rule to define what “waters of the United States” fall under federal jurisdiction. The rule would include smaller bodies of water including streams, riverbanks, wetlands and floodplains that may have access to larger bodies of water.
Republican lawmakers have opposed the rule since its inception, saying the EPA down-played the regulatory and economic impact on small businesses and was too broad defining what waters could be regulated.
Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, told the committee the proposed rule is “the greatest water grab that we have seen by the federal government in the United States.”
Jack Field, a cattle rancher with 120 cattle from Washington state, spoke at the hearing and said the rule has “the potential to negatively impact every aspect” of his business.
“It sounds to me once that drop falls out of the sky it’s under the EPA’s jurisdiction,” Field told Tipton when asked if he could identify what waters are covered in the rule.
According to the EPA, one-third of the country’s waters still do not meet water standards. The EPA says the proposed rule provides protection for waters that were at one time protected under the Clean Water Act, but became hazy through 2001 and 2006 Supreme Court decisions.
Rep. Sam Graves, R-Missouri, head of the Small Business Committee, said small-business owners hoped the rule would provide clarity but the “proposed rule creates more confusion, and not less.”
The regulations could also affect homebuilders, according to Tom Woods, a custom-home business owner, who testified that builders might have “costly delays waiting for agencies to determine if a road ditch is a water of the United States.”
Noticeably, the hearing lacked testimony from businesses that supported the rule of additional protection for waters with the exception of William Buzbee, an environmental lawyer and Emory Law professor, who testified “to provide context.”
Buzbee said that in part of the rule, the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers actually relinquished jurisdiction over several areas, including “upland ditches that do not contribute flow to other waters.” Buzbee said that many of the questions posed in the testimony are directly acknowledged, including that the rule would not regulate “puddles and bird feeders.”
Nydia Velazquez, D-New York, the committee’s ranking Democrat, said the rule would create winners and losers.
“It is important to note, however, that there are many sectors also dominated by small business which will benefit,” Velazquez told the committee. “These include companies engaged in recreation tourism, hunting, fishing and boating; for those companies, their livelihood is often tied to clean water.”
Rep. Graves joined other representatives in asking that the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers rescind the rule until the economic impact on small businesses has been determined as required under the Regulatory Flexibility Act.
The public comment period will be open for 91 days and will close July 21.
mbowerman @durangoherald.com. Mary Bowerman is graduate student at American University in Washington, D.C., and an intern for The Durango Herald.