Comments on Modification of the Clean Water Act

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Comments on this rule change are CLOSED


Comment Text (ABRIDGED for copy/paste into comment field)

Regarding Docket ID: EPA-HQ-OW-2017-0203

Significance
The Clean Water Act has been one of our country’s most successful laws in protecting human health, but our understanding of hydrology has substantially increased since its passage. Pollution discharged into smaller streams and wetlands has impacts downstream. The regulations implemented under the Clean Water Act do not reflect this scientific reality.

The 2015 Clean Water Rule (herein, “the Rule”) was issued to clearly define which waters are protected. The Rule’s definition is based on hydrologic science and recognizes the connections between large-volume, “navigable” waters and smaller non-navigable streams and wetlands.

Before finalizing the Rule, the EPA held more than 400 meetings across the country and more than one million people commented.

Impacts
Clean water is essential for public health and our economy. The current proposal would severely limit which waters are protected and would put the drinking water of millions of Americans at risk. At least 59 percent of Maryland’s stream miles would be at risk, imperiling Marylanders’ access to safe, clean drinking water since 67 percent of Maryland residents get their drinking water from sources that rely on small streams protected by the Rule.

Rescinding the protections provided in the Rule will have significant economic impacts. EPA estimates that the Rule would provide between $339 and $572 million annually in
benefits, through reduced flooding, pollution remediation, wildlife habitat, and other mechanisms. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reports that in 2011, $1.3 billion was spent on wildlife recreation in Maryland, including $535 million on fishing alone, and more than 1.6 million people participated in these recreational activities.

Maryland’s thriving brewing industry also relies on clean water. Small Maryland breweries contribute almost $4.6 million to our economy every year and support more than 5,422 jobs. We cannot support and grow small businesses by putting the natural water infrastructure on which they rely on at risk.

Last but certainly not least, the health of the Chesapeake Bay is vital to both the economy and identity of Maryland. The Chesapeake Bay is the largest estuary in the U.S., with an estimated economic value of over one trillion dollars. Decades of effort and significant resources have been put into cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay, to the benefit of all Marylanders. The EPA has estimated that first-order headwater streams comprise over 50 percent of the 200,000 miles of streams in the region that encompasses most of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. These small headwater and intermittently flowing streams feed public drinking water supplies for 17 million people. Other studies have shown that non-tidal wetlands near the Chesapeake Bay remove an estimated 89 person of the nitrogen pollution and 80 percent of the phosphorous pollution that enters the wetlands. It is impossible to believe that failure to protect these streams and wetlands under the Clean Water Act would not lead to detrimental impacts for the health and economy of the entire Chesapeake Bay region.

The consequences of this proposal are not limited to water quality. As the impacts of climate change will increasingly be felt in the mid-Atlantic region, the preservation and protection of wetlands will be crucial to mitigating the effects of changing weather patterns. Maryland has 425,000 acres of wetlands, which serve a vital role in flood control and coastal resiliency. Putting our wetlands at risk of pollution and degradation would result in the loss of an important component of our means for controlling flooding.

We cannot protect public health by ignoring science. The proposed changes will be devastating for both our public health and our environment.

Process
Rescinding the Rule will result in uncertainty for the regulated community. It would return us to the legal uncertainty that the Rule was promulgated to end–in response to broad-based calls for regulatory clarity. The failure to maintain a consistent regulatory landscape results in confusion, and uncertain investment environment, and the potential for a lot of wasted money. Rescinding the Rule is bad governance, bad for businesses who rely on regulatory certainty, and bad for our citizens who deserve clean water.

Finally, the 30-day comment period for the proposed changes is woefully inadequate for such an important and complex issue; this action has the potential to impact millions of Americans, and its consideration should reflect this significance and potential for far-reaching consequences to public health. It is difficult to see the current process as anything other than an attempt to minimize public input. We call on the agency to extend the comment period to at least 120 days.

Any revision of the Rule should be based on sound science and public input. Unfortunately, the current process allows for neither.

 

Comment Text (FULL-LENGTH for submitting as attachment – optional. To download a PDF copy click here)

Regarding Docket ID: EPA-HQ-OW-2017-0203 to “review and revise the definition of “waters of the United States” consistent with the Executive Order signed on February 28, 2017…”

Significance of the 2015 Clean Water Rule
The Clean Water Act was passed in 1972 with strong bipartisan support and has been one of our country’s most successful laws in protecting human health. The original law did not contain a clear definition of which “waters” (rivers, streams, lakes, etc.) are protected. The Supreme Court has considered this question several times and provided several different interpretations.

Since the Act’s passage, hydrology has substantially increased our understanding of how water moves. From a scientific perspective, all waters are connected. Rivers that carry large volumes of water are fed by thousands of smaller streams and adjacent wetlands. Pollution discharged into smaller streams and wetlands upstream will impact larger rivers downstream. This connectivity is a hydrologic reality. The regulations implemented under the Clean Water Act do not reflect this scientific reality, nor do the Supreme Court decisions that contain contradictory legal rulings. The result has been considerable uncertainty for regulators and the regulated community about which waters are protected.

In 2015, the Clean Water Rule (known as the “Waters of the U.S.” or WOTUS rule, herein called “the Rule”) was issued to clearly define which “waters” are protected under the Clean Water Act. The Rule’s definition of protected waters is based on hydrologic science and recognizes the connections between large-volume, “navigable” waters and smaller non-navigable streams and wetlands. It protects tributary streams and wetlands that impact downstream water.

Before finalizing the Rule in 2015, the EPA held more than 400 meetings across the country and more than one million people commented during the rulemaking process.
The EPA also published a synthesis of more than 1200 peer-reviewed scientific publications that showed protecting streams and wetlands is vital to the protection of larger downstream waters.

Impacts of Rescinding the Rule
Clean water is a basic necessity of life. It is essential for public health and our economy. Our nation has made tremendous progress since the Clean Water Act was passed 45 years ago, but many of our rivers, lakes, and bays are still not safe for swimming or fishing.

The current proposal would severely limit which waters are protected and would put the drinking water of millions of Americans at risk. At least 59 percent of Maryland’s stream miles would be at risk, imperiling Marylanders’ access to safe, clean drinking water since 67 percent of Maryland residents get their drinking water from sources that rely on small (non-navigable) streams protected by the Clean Water Rule. Rural residents who rely on private wells or whose community’s water systems lack the resources to adequately treat water from polluted sources will be some of the hardest hit by the proposed roll back.

Moreover, rescinding the protections provided in the Rule will have significant economic impacts. EPA estimates that the Rule would provide between $339 and $572 million annually in
benefits, through reduced flooding, pollution remediation, wildlife habitat, and other mechanisms. This would have very real economic consequences for Maryland. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reports that in 2011, $1.3 billion was spent on wildlife recreation in Maryland, including $535 million on fishing alone, and more than 1.6 million people participated in these recreational activities.

Maryland’s thriving brewing industry also relies on clean water. Small Maryland breweries contribute almost $4.6 million to our economy every year and support more than 5,422 jobs. We cannot support and grow small businesses by putting the natural water infrastructure on which they rely on at risk.

Last but certainly not least, the health of the Chesapeake Bay is vital to both the economy and identity of Maryland. The Chesapeake Bay is the largest estuary in the U.S., with an estimated economic value of over one trillion dollars. Decades of effort and significant resources have been put into cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay, to the benefit of all Marylanders. The EPA  itself has estimated that first-order headwater streams comprise over 50 percent of the 200,000 miles of streams in the region that encompasses most of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. These small headwater and intermittently flowing streams feed public drinking water supplies for 17 million people. Other studies have shown that non-tidal wetlands near the Chesapeake Bay remove an estimated 89 person of the nitrogen pollution and 80 percent of the phosphorous pollution that enters the wetlands. It is impossible to believe that failure to protect these streams and wetlands under the Clean Water Act would not lead to detrimental impacts for the health and economy of the entire Chesapeake Bay region.

It is also important to note that the consequences of this proposal are not limited to water quality. As the impacts of climate change will increasingly be felt in the mid-Atlantic region, the preservation and protection of wetlands will be crucial to mitigating the effects of changing weather patterns. Maryland has 425,000 acres of wetlands, which serve a vital role in flood control and coastal resiliency. Putting our wetlands at risk of pollution and degradation would result in the loss of an important component of our means for controlling flooding.

We cannot protect public health by ignoring the science that water quality throughout a watershed depends on what happens to upstream waterways. The proposed changes to the Clean Water Rule, coupled with the dramatic cuts to the EPA budget, will be devastating for both our public health and our environment.

Process of Rescinding the Rule
Rescinding the Rule will result in confusion and uncertainty for the regulated community. It would return us to the legal uncertainty and case-by-case determinations that the Rule was promulgated to end–in response to broad-based calls for regulatory clarity. The Administration would also have to go through a new rulemaking process to adopt its preferred definition, and it has indicated it would not have a proposal until the end of this year.

The failure to maintain a consistent regulatory landscape results in confusion, and uncertain investment environment, and the potential for a lot of wasted money. Rescinding the Rule is bad governance, bad for businesses who rely on regulatory certainty, and bad for our citizens who deserve clean water. It would also place additional burdens on EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers at a time when these agencies are already under difficult staffing and budgetary constraints.

Finally, the 30-day comment period for the proposed changes is woefully inadequate for such an important and complex issue; this action has the potential to impact millions of Americans, and its consideration should reflect this significance and potential for far-reaching consequences to public health. It is difficult to see the current process as anything other than an attempt to minimize public input. We call on the agency to extend the comment period to at least 120 days.

Any revision of the 2015 Clean Water Rule should be based on sound science and public input. Unfortunately, the current process allows for neither.

 

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