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Water Wars: EPA Rule Front and Center

gutterman-sara-green-mediaEPA’s Waters of the United States rule on the regulation of water pollution is creating polarity—and some unlikely allies.

For decades, farmers, businesses, developers, environmental groups, and elected officials have been confused by the scope of federal jurisdiction over the types of water bodies protected by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the Clean Water Act, which ensures the safety of drinking water. To clarify its authority over water pollution control, the EPA proposed a controversial and widely criticized rule last year that would prevent the pollution of streams, tributaries and wetlands that feed water sources.

For decades, farmers, businesses, developers, environmental groups and elected officials have been confused by the scope of federal jurisdiction over the types of water bodies protected by the EPA under the Clean Water Act, which ensures the safety of drinking water. To clarify its authority over water pollution control, the EPA proposed a controversial and widely criticized rule last year that would prevent the pollution of streams, tributaries, and wetlands that feed water sources.

Not surprisingly, the announcement created a maelstrom, with the farmers, ranchers, developers, utilities, miners and others (generally in industries that use large swaths of land) demanding that the EPA revamp or completely withdraw the proposal.

An emotional, dogmatic and, at times, nasty battle ensued to capture public opinion, with the all-too-familiar heart-tugging taglines (“Clean water is important to me, I want to protect it for my health, my family and my community”), slur campaigns (“Ditch the Rule”) and negative advertisements (“EPA seeks to destroy property rights, stop the power grab.”)

Critics claimed that the proposed rule represented a massive overreach in the EPA’s dominion. According to these opponents, the new rule would allow the agency to regulate puddles, dry creek beds, ditches and ponds (particularly those on farms that don’t reach navigable water or wells), and other areas that don’t need federal regulation, resulting in an unnecessary labyrinth of bureaucracy and an inefficient pile of paperwork. All of this, they asserted, would inevitably slow down progress.

Advocates, such as businesses that depend on clean water, environmental groups, and, interestingly, sporting clubs, avowed that enhanced protection of upstream water sources would ensure safe water for the 33 percent of Americans whose drinking water currently comes from upstream sources not protected under the Clean Water Act, as well as enhanced ecosystems and animal habitat. As one example, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership brought in local, regional and national sportsmen’s groups to argue that clean headwaters lead to healthy streams and wetlands, supporting fish, birds and other wildlife that are essential to outdoor recreation and hunting.

Sara Gutterman
Sara Gutterman is the co-founder and CEO of Green Builder Media. An experienced entrepreneur, investor, and sustainability consultant, Sara specializes in developing companies that are simultaneously sustainable and profitable. She is a former venture capitalist and has participated in a portion of the life cycle (from funding to exit) of over 20 companies. Sara graduated Cum Laude from Dartmouth College and holds an MBA in entrepreneurship and finance from the University of Colorado.
 
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One thought on “Water Wars: EPA Rule Front and Center

  1. Sadly, gone are the days when EPA rulings were pretty much on partisan and not used as political footballs. I don’t think the Republicans can do much about stopping the EPA’s new water rules other than tidying up in court for several years until the day when a Republican president is elected who will instruct the EPA to repeal the ruling.

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