The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been getting battered by industry and farm groups – as well as half the states in the nation – for allegedly going too far in its recent clean water rule.
Now the agency is getting sued for not going far enough.
A coalition of conservation groups on Wednesday filed suit in federal court, indicating that the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers pulled punches in the recently finalized “Waters of the United States” rule. The suit was filed in a federal appeals court based in San Francisco.
The rule, in development for more than a year, was published last month. States and industry groups immediately pounced, calling it a massive overreach by federal regulators – one that will make private property owners “subject to the unpredictable, unsound and often Byzantine regulatory regime of the EPA,” in the words of one attorney general.
Farm groups have also been vocal critics of the rule; they say it will make it more difficult to farm, to change a farming operation, or to remain competitive while doing so.
The rule was proposed by the two federal agencies to simplify and clarify the meaning of the Clean Water Act. That law covers rivers, lakes and year-round wetlands. But it was less clear about how to handle certain streams that dry up part of the year – or wetlands that are only wet during springtime months. Since the Clean Water Act requires permits for developing or discharging into covered waters, the rule is of vital importance to farmers and other landowners.
Wednesday’s lawsuit came from the opposite direction than the earlier industry and state lawsuits.
According to the coalition, the EPA and Army Corps – which have different roles in overseeing the Clean Water Act – sought to placate industry groups in publishing their final rule. In doing so, the coalition said they failed to ensure that exemptions placed into the rule don’t jeopardize the survival of hundreds of endangered species.
“Endangered salmon and sturgeon on both coasts, California red-legged frogs, and bog turtles are among the many species that depend on clean, unpolluted water and will be harmed by the exemptions created by this rule,” the coalition said in a statement.
The coalition said last-minute exemptions for industries put into the rule “could open the door to more pollution of wetlands, streams and other waterways.”
Under the rule, for example, the coalition said wetlands, ponds and other small water bodies can only be protected if they are within 4,000 feet of a stream or river. But if a wetland “is just one foot over the arbitrary 4,000-foot line, it cannot be protected — even if it is vitally important in preserving downstream water quality,” the coalition said.