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Perry, farmers, businesses oppose EPA rule change

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Rep. Scott Perry joined a chorus of groups, including the National Federation of Independent Business, Pennsylvania Farm Bureau and Pennsylvania Builders Association, questioning a rule proposal tied to the federal Clean Water Act.

The Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corp of Engineers wants to clarify the “Waters of the U.S.” as defined by the act, said EPA spokeswoman Julia Ortiz. The proposed rule, introduced in April, says the EPA would have certain authority over man-made ditches, farm ponds, irrigation streams and areas that collect water intermittently throughout the year.

The deadline to submit comment to the agencies is July 14.

“I’d like to stress that it doesn’t expand the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act over any new types of waters,” Ortiz said in an email this morning.

But Perry, R-York/Adams, has said the proposal greatly expands the EPA’s authority and could affect farmers, homebuilders and other small businesses. Last month he held a hearing in Pennsylvania of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to question the scope of the EPA’s request to regulate all ephemeral and intermittent streams and the wetlands connected or next to them.

“As far as we can tell, this could apply to any body of water,” Perry said. “If there’s a puddle in your front yard … it could be seen as ‘navigable waters,’ and gives the federal government the right to regulate it.”

According to the EPA, the rule proposal came about as a result of U.S. Supreme Court rulings. The cases are U.S. v. Riverside Bayview, Rapanos v. United States, and Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. These rulings left the definition of what are considered waters of the United States muddy, EPA and Corp officials have said.

“We are clarifying protection for the upstream waters that are absolutely vital to downstream communities,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy in a news release on the proposal. “Clean water is essential to every single American, from families who rely on safe places to swim and healthy fish to eat, to farmers who need abundant and reliable sources of water to grow their crops, to hunters and fishermen who depend on healthy waters for recreation and their work, and to businesses that need a steady supply of water for operations.”

Perry said the court rulings did clarify the definitions, stating that federal authority does not apply and that any regulation of such water ways should be handled on a case-by-case basis.

The farm bureau questions the EPA and Corp’s interpretation, as well.

“The Farm Bureau maintains that Congress clearly intended regulations under the Clean Water Act to focus on navigable waters, not ponds, ditches or puddles that occur on land during a heavy rainstorm,” the bureau said in a news release. “In addition, two Supreme Court rulings have affirmed that the federal government is limited to regulating ‘navigable’ waters.”

The EPA and Corp state the ultimate goal is to protect the environment and public.

“The health of rivers, lakes, bays and coastal waters depend on the streams and wetlands where they begin,” the agencies said in the release. “Streams and wetlands provide many benefits to communities — they trap floodwaters, recharge groundwater supplies, remove pollution and provide habitat for fish and wildlife. They are also economic drivers because of their role in fishing, hunting, agriculture, recreation, energy and manufacturing.”

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