New Clean Water Rule will Benefit Pennsylvania Resources

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
27 May 2015
By Don Hopey
Pennsylvania wetlands and small streams, along with millions of people who get their drinking water from sources connected to them, will benefit from the extended protections of controversial new federal clean water rules, according to federal agencies and environmental organizations.

The finalized Clean Water Rule, announced Wednesday morning by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, places science-based protections on wetlands and high-in-the-watershed headwater streams that the agencies say “form the foundation of the nation’s water resources.”

According to the EPA, the rule clarifies Clean Water Act stream and wetland protections that were muddied by two U.S. Supreme Court decisions a decade ago, and more precisely defines the kind of waters covered by federal regulations. One in three Americans, about 117 million people, the agency said, get drinking water from waterways that were not clearly protected prior to the rule.

“For the water in the rivers and lakes in our communities that flow to our drinking water to be clean, the streams and wetlands that feed them need to be clean too,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, in a statement released shortly after the new rule was announced. She said protecting water sources is a critical component of adapting to climate change, as well as providing for a strong economy.

Myron Arnowitt, Pennsylvania director for Clean Water Action, an environmental organization, said that while the state’s water regulations are good, the federal rule will help protect small stream flows that are the foundation of local drinking water supplies.

“Pennsylvania does have state rules and programs that address some of the waters that are the subject of the new federal rule, but the value of the federal rule is that it ensures that pollution problems have federal consequences and we are not just reliant on the state enforcement,” said Mr. Arnowitt, who added that state environmental enforcement has been negatively affected by budget cuts.

John Quigley, acting secretary of the state Department of Environmental Protection, said the department’s budget was cut 14 percent under the Corbett administration — other state department budgets were reduced an average of 6 percent — but Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposed budget would provide more money for water enforcement operations.

“We are still evaluating the federal rule to determine what its impact will be in the state,” Mr. Quigley said. “But in many respects our laws and regulations go beyond the federal requirements, and we take the responsibility to protect the waters of Pennsylvania very seriously.”

A statement issued by the DEP said the evaluation will include “an assessment of how this will impact DEP’s regulated community, such as unconventional drilling and agriculture.”

The EPA, which received more than 1 million comments during an extended feedback period, said the new rule defines and protects wetlands and tributaries that connect to and have significant impacts on larger streams and rivers, many of which are used for public drinking water supplies.

The rule protects water in ditches that are constructed in streams or that function as streams to carry pollution to larger tributaries or rivers, but imposes no new regulations on agricultural water uses.

Ms. McCarthy said in a phone-in news conference Wednesday afternoon that the economy, from tourism to manufacturing, depends on clean water, and noted that businesses in Toledo, Ohio, suffered in August last year when the city’s public water supply was contaminated by neurotoxins from an algae bloom caused by farm fertilizer runoff into Lake Erie.

Despite the EPA’s assurances, agriculture, business, home builders associations, and oil and gas interests that opposed the new rule in statements submitted during the public comment period, continued to voice concerns Tuesday, as did Republican leaders, who criticized the EPA for regulatory overreach.

Tom Woods, chairman of the National Association of Home Builders, said EPA’s final water rule will needlessly raise housing costs and add more regulatory burdens to landowners and industries, and would likely end up being challenged in court again.

Environmental groups, fishing and hunting organizations, and watershed conservation organizations, including the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition, issued statements supporting the implementation of the new water rule as good for the environment, drinking water consumers and the economy.

“Now that the rule is in place,” said William Baker, president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, “it is our hope that all of us working for healthy, safe water everywhere will have a common understanding and can work together to deliver what Congress promised us in 1972 when it passed the Clean Water Act — fishable, swimmable waters.”

The new rule becomes effective 60 days after its publication in the Federal Register.

Don Hopey:, 412-263-1983 or on Twitter @donhopey.