Politics & Government

EPA’s controversial water rule gets more time for comments

The federal government extended the comment period for its “Waters of the United States” rule, an attempt to clarify what is and isn’t covered by the Clean Water Act that has riled agricultural and other industries.

To date, more than 217,000 comments have come in on the proposal – and the cutoff was to be Oct. 20.

Now, it’s been extended until Nov. 14.

The Waters of the U.S. rule was proposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. It noted that while the powers of the 1972 Clean Water Act clearly cover rivers, lakes and year-round wetlands, other waters aren’t so obvious. Should certain streams that dry up part of the year, for example, be covered along with traditional rivers, streams and lakes?

Two U.S. Supreme Court cases in the 2000s muddied things further. The proposed rule is intended to take into consideration those court cases and to lay out standards for which waters should be covered.

The Clean Water Act requires permits for developing or discharging into covered waters, making the rule – which regulators hope to complete by next year – of vital importance to farmers, and to landowners in general.

Farm interests are strongly against the proposal, and some state-level officials have pushed back as well, saying the rule is an overreach by the EPA. Republicans in Congress have sought to kill it.

The EPA on Monday said that a scientific advisory board will soon complete a report on the connectivity of streams and wetlands. To give the public the chance to react to that report, the comment period has been extended.

The Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group, supported the extension, and again urged the government to finalize the rule.

As Jon Devine, a senior attorney with the group’s water program, said in a statement: “Every day that passes is a day the streams and wetlands that contribute to the drinking water of 117 million Americans remain in legal limbo, so we hope the agencies will move promptly to finalize the rule.”