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Alaska delegation applauds Trump administration's revised environmental rule

 (KTUU)
(KTUU) (KTUU)
Published: Jan. 24, 2020 at 12:14 PM AKST
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Thursday the Environmental Protection Agency finalized a new rule narrowing the scope of the Clean Water Act, fulfilling an executive order President Trump issued in February of 2017.

The Clean Water Act regulates the discharge of pollutants into surface water. The main point of contention surrounding the rule in the past decade has centered around which “waters” the act applies to.

The new

is the second step taken by the EPA to define the “Waters of the United States” and change regulations enacted in 2015 under the Obama Administration.

Critics of the 2015 rule, including Alaska’s congressional delegation, argued that the rule was an overreach of federal authority-- that it allowed the Clean Water Act to apply to waters such as farm ponds and ditches.

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“While the Clean Water Act is an important piece of environmental protection legislation, President Obama’s WOTUS rule was just one more example of the egregious federal overreach that defined his heavy-handed administration. Expanding the definition of “navigable waterway” to include tiny streams and ponds only served to ensure that every day Americans - Alaskans among them - would run afoul of the rule,” Republican Congressman Don Young said in a statement.

The new rule defines four categories of waters that are federally regulated:

Territorial seas and traditional navigable waters

Perennial and intermittent tributaries to those waters

Certain lakes, ponds and impoundments

Wetlands adjacent to jurisdictional waters

One key aspect of the new rule is that it details a dozen categories that are not “waters of the United States.” Those include features that only contain water in direct response to rainfall, groundwater, many ditches, prior converted cropland and waste treatment systems.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said in a statement Thursday that she is still reviewing the details of the final rule, but she welcomes it and expects it to be a significant improvement over the 2015 Obama-era rule.

“I have worked for years to try to prevent federal agencies from massively expanding the definition of the ‘Waters of the United States,’ and I appreciate this administration’s efforts to return to a more reasonable regulation that does not block private construction or harm economic growth. Many states, including my home state of Alaska, already have robust standards that work in tandem with federal requirements to protect water quality,” Murkowski said.

Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, also applauded the new definition.

“Under the previous rule, land owners face the potential for thousands of dollars in litigation and months of bureaucratic back-and-forth just to fill a ditch on their own property, or build a structure. Thanks to EPA Administrator Wheeler and the administration, that uncertainty has now been replaced with a reasonable and statutory interpretation of the Clean Water Act that will protect our cherished waterways without devastating Alaska’s economy,” Sullivan said in a statement.

Gershon Cohen, Project Director for Alaska Clean Water Advocacy said it's too soon to say whether the new rule will have any significant impact in Alaska.

"We don't have ephemeral stream issues faced by dry states, we haven't lost 90 percent of our wetlands like much of the rest of the county, and our wetlands for the most part are connected to waters that would still be considered jurisdiction waters under the Clean Water Act. Until we see how the Army Corps of Engineers implements the rule change, it's premature to say whether it will be problematic for Alaska," Gershon said in a statement to Channel 2.

The EPA says the new rule is informed by extensive public outreach, including more than 620,000 comments on the proposal. The final rule will go into effect 60 days after it is published in the new rule will go into effect 60 days after it is published in the Federal Register.

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