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Support EPA’s waters of the United States clarification. Open for public comment until Oct. 20.

Bay Journal: Science, not politics, should guide Clean Water Act clarification


On Aug. 2, nearly a half-million people in Toledo, OH, woke up to learn their tap water was contaminated with microcystin, a neurotoxin produced by a massive bloom of the algae Cyanobacteria in Lake Erie. It’s thought that nutrient overload, from farm runoff and sewage treatment effluent, contributed to the algae bloom.

In January, the drinking water for more than 300,000 West Virginians was poisoned when a Freedom Industries storage tank leaked, spewing 7,500 gallons of 4-methylcyclohexane into the Elk River, just upstream from a water treatment plant.


Why has the public not demanded that the federal agency be given the necessary authority to enforce appropriate safeguards, so that our fresh water resources will not be subject to the vagaries of state and local authorities, nor to the whims of private landowners?

Instead, the EPA is being barraged by an army of opponents. Developers, property rights groups, the American Farm Bureau Federation, the fertilizer industry and a number of politicians are attacking its proposed clarification—not an expansion—of which “waters of the United States” are covered by the Clean Water Act.

The need for clarification arose from two Supreme Court cases, in 2001 and in 2006. The clarification would enable the EPA to better protect our wetlands, small streams and other important watershed features without being dragged into court every time someone wanted to avoid compliance by exploiting an ambiguity.

But this July, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee passed two bills that could limit the EPA’s authority. One of the bills would give states more authority over water pollution permits, while the other would block the agency’s ability to redefine which waters fall under its jurisdiction. These bills follow measures passed by the House Appropriations Subcommittee for Interior, Environment and Related Agencies on July 9, which would significantly cut EPA funding and remove the agency’s authority to implement the proposed “Waters of the U.S.” rule.


The alarm has sounded. We hit the snooze button at our peril. If you care about having clean, safe fresh water, contact your U.S. congressman and tell him or her to support the EPA’s waters of the United States clarification. The proposed rule is open for public comment until Oct. 20.

Comment period originally ended in July but was extended to 10/20.

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