Many Oklahomans have voiced serious concerns with proposed changes to the Clean Water Act, even those who might be expected to support it.
The Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Water Act now regulates “navigable waters,” essentially any waters a boat can float on. It also allows the agency to regulate other waters on a case-by-case basis.
“Waters of the United States” is the name given to applicable waters.
The EPA and Army Corps of Engineers jointly proposed a change in language that would include any waters that can travel into navigable waters, including streams, deltas and wetlands. The goal is to keep pollution from traveling from the smaller bodies of water into larger ones.
“We are clarifying protection for the upstream waters that are absolutely vital to downstream communities,” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said in a news release.
Rules seen as broad
Clarifying protection is the reason for the rule change, the agency has said. The line has been blurry since Congress passed the Federal Water Pollution Control Act in 1972, which established the Clean Water Act.
Two Supreme Court cases in the early 2000s blurred the line even further, but opponents are worried the amended rule is still too vague because it doesn’t explicitly limit regulations to streams and deltas.
“If you get enough rain, all water will run downhill and into navigable water,” said Richard Gebhart, Oklahoma Cattlemen president and professor at Tulsa University.
The proposed rule still includes language about deciding jurisdiction on a case-to-case basis. It leaves so much room for interpretation, any water could fall under the umbrella, Gebhart said.
“I honestly believe it infringes on a property owner’s rights,” he said.
The concern lies in the permit process.
Tom Buchanan, Oklahoma Farm Bureau president, is worried that the increased need for permits will increase production costs.
Property owners aren’t the only ones worried about their rights.
J.D. Strong, executive director of the Oklahoma Water Resources Board, said the change infringes on states’ rights. Strong testified before the U.S. House of Representatives earlier this month during the public hearing on potential impacts on the rule change.
The state is a co-regulator under the Clean Water Act, meaning state agencies are to help enforce the law.
Cooperation between federal and state agencies is imperative to protecting resources, he said in his statement.
But the EPA “undeniably excluded” Oklahoma in the rule-making process because the state wasn’t afforded a fair amount of input or review on the new language, Strong said.
“By skipping this critical step in the process, Oklahoma and many other states are left confused, disenfranchised, and scrambling ...” he said.
The EPA is allowing public comment on the proposed rule until October.
We are clarifying protection for the upstream waters that are absolutely vital to downstream communities.”