In a joint House and Senate committee hearing Wednesday, U.S. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said she understands concern from the ag industry regarding the agency's Waters of the U.S. proposed rule.
The proposal has caused a rift among not only the ag industry but also Democrats and Republicans, with the latter generally concerned that it would expand federal jurisdiction over private lands by dictating what waters would fall under jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act.
In the hearing, Pennsylvania representative and House Transportation Committee Chairman Bill Shuster said the proposal could restrict the rights of states to regulate waters within their boundaries and may also hurt citizens by driving up the costs of producing food and constructing buildings.
He kicked off more than two hours of comments for and against the proposal, which was released in April. It is currently under consideration by the EPA and additional proposing agency, the Army Corps of Engineers, after a lengthy public comment period.
Bringing along large printed maps of waterways on heavy posterboard, some lawmakers questioned the McCarthy and Assistant Secretary of the Army Jo-Ellen Darcy on the proposed rule's changes.
McCarthy insisted the proposal was built on science, modeled on the questions the Supreme Court said had to be answered following a previous dispute about what waters are enforceable under the CWA.
"Were going to protect what we need to, but leave alone what we don’t," McCarthy said in the hearing, after being questioned on the proposal's alleged overreach. She said the agency has to adhere to statutory limitations in the CWA, which includes the inability to expand jurisdiction over waters.
The Waters of the U.S. proposal, however, includes several nuances in wording that many lawmakers said were "concerning." Some asked Darcy and McCarthy to address the idea that puddles and groundwater would be regulated.
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Those concerns of the Republicans, however, were dismissed by Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who suggested the rule was more straight-forward.
"I think people have been arguing against some mythical rule," Boxer said. "We don’t want to regulate a puddle … we want to regulate a body of water that has pollutants in it and those pollutants end up in a drinking water system."
McCarthy assured the lawmakers that puddles, and groundwater, were not included in the proposal. "You have my absolute word that we are going to try to narrow the definition of what we have control of," she told Sen. Shelley Capito, R-W.V.
Though she did not provide a specific timeline for the final rule's release, McCarthy said the agency does intend to finalize it, and it will likely appear in the spring.
Until then, she said the "many legitimate issues that have been raised" during the comment period – which ended in November – would be considered.
"I understand that that the ag community is sincere in that they want clean water but also want the certainty that they will be able to keep farming," she told the lawmakers. "We're looking to provide more clarity."