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EPA tries to clarify rule; Rep. Scott Perry doesn't buy it

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The Environmental Protection Agency is seeking to clarify a proposed rule that some critics, particularly farmers, have said will expand its authority to cover puddles and drainage swales.

In a blog post last week, Nancy Stoner, the EPA’s acting assistant administrator for water, said the agency has not done a good job communicating with the agriculture industry on the rule, proposed in April.

Comment on the rule is open until July 14.

“There’s been some confusion about EPA’s proposed ‘Waters of the U.S.’ rule under the Clean Water Act, especially in the agriculture community, and we want to make sure you know the facts,” she wrote.

The proposal seeks to fix issues created with the Clean Water Act, passed in 1972, caused by three Supreme Court rulings, Stoner said: U.S. v. Riverside Bayview, Rapanos v. United States, and Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“That confusion added red tape, time, and expense to the permitting process under the Clean Water Act,” she wrote. “The Army Corps of Engineers had to make case-by-case decisions about which waters were protected, and decisions in different parts of the country became inconsistent.”

To be clear, she said, the proposal doesn’t regulate new types of ditches. It also doesn’t apply to groundwater, nor does it change the permitting exemption for stock ponds, does not require permits for normal farming activities like moving cattle and does not regulate puddles, she said.

In May, Rep. Scott Perry, R-York/Adams, and others protested the move as a power grab by the EPA. Monday, he said the explanation did little to assuage concerns. Bipartisan opposition stopped previous attempts to expand the Clean Water Act, and the Supreme Court decisions “reaffirmed that there are limits to federal jurisdiction” on the act.

Ultimately, he said his constituents have heard the talk from the EPA before.

“These constituents will judge the EPA by its actions, not its words,” he wrote in an email. “We’re tired of words. We can find common sense ways to protect our environment and waterways without unnecessarily expanding the reach of the federal government.”

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