WETLANDS: McCarthy Solicits support for Upcoming CWA Rule while GOP Voices Concerns

Annie Snider, E&E reporter
March 6, 2014

U.S. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy was making the rounds yesterday to drum up support among environmentalists for a controversial wetlands regulation expected to be proposed “soon,” even as congressional Republicans sent a flurry of letters voicing their opposition.

Speaking to the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition in Washington, D.C., yesterday, McCarthy committed to finalizing the rule, which is expected to increase the number of waters that receive Clean Water Act protections following two confusing Supreme Court decisions that threw into question whether some types of wetlands and streams fell under the law. EPA sent the proposed rule to the White House for interagency review Sept. 17.

“I am totally committed not just to get it out soon, but to get it over the finish line, because we have had too many fits and starts about this,” McCarthy said.

“We are going to put this out in a way that I think will, if people give it a chance, be surprisingly clever at how we are trying to bring much more certainty around this to the waters where science tells us it matters the most,” she said, noting that the proposal would acknowledge “that there are waters that the science tells us are absolutely in and that there are waters that really deserve to be looked at and get protected.”

Environmentalists were disappointed that a leaked version of the draft rule essentially kept the status quo for “geographically isolated wetlands,” requiring that they be studied individually to determine whether they have a significant enough connection to downstream waters to warrant protection (Greenwire, Nov. 13, 2013).

In McCarthy’s comments yesterday, they heard a possibility that the final proposal may include something stronger.

“We hope this is an indication that the EPA is working to propose the strongest rule possible and restore protections to critical waterways across the country,” said Ally Fields with Environment America.

Opponents have called the regulation a massive power grab, though. Congressional Republicans were making their own efforts to rally opposition to the regulation yesterday.

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), along with Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee Chairman Bob Gibbs (R-Ohio), wrote to McCarthy, arguing that the regulation was part of a “pattern of an imperial presidency that seeks to use brute force and executive action while ignoring Congress.”

The pair argued that there are “serious deficiencies” with the rulemaking.

“The draft rule misconstrues and manipulates the legal standards announced in the two Supreme Court holdings relevant to this rule, and there are substantive flaws in the economic and scientific foundations upon which this rule is based,” they wrote.

Senate Environment and Public Works Republicans also cited the regulation yesterday in a “Dear Colleague” letter urging senators to oppose President Obama’s nominee to lead EPA’s Office of Water because of his history with the regulation (see related story).

“This expansion of federal jurisdiction will force many more of your state’s private property owners to obtain permission, from federal bureaucrats, for the beneficial use of their own property,” the six Republicans told their colleagues.