The Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are under fire for a newly issued rule expanding federal jurisdiction on water pollution under the Clean Water Act.
Several lawsuits have been filed nationwide against the EPA and the Corps of Engineers since June 29, including a suit brought Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis challenging the rule that the EPA says will “clearly protect from pollution and degradation the streams and wetlands that form the foundation of the nation’s water resources.”
The plaintiffs include Pierce Investment Co. of Minnesota, which has property in Marshall County that would come under the act.
In addition, 27 states, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and businesses across the country have filed suit. Minnesota is not among those states.
The suits contend that the new rule illegally extends federal protection to waters that the U.S. Supreme Court said should not come under such jurisdiction.
“The government claims that if they don’t regulate the waters, they will be unprotected, and that is a lie,” said Reed Hopper, a Washington state attorney with the Pacific Legal Foundation, in an interview. “The reason it is a lie is because the states have the responsibility to protect local waters.”
Among the defendants in the latest suit is EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. In a statement in May, she said, “For the water in the rivers and lakes in our communities that flow to our drinking water to be clean, the streams and wetlands that feed them need to be clean, too. Protecting our water sources is a critical component of adapting to climate change impacts like drought, sea-level rise, stronger storms and water temperatures.”
The new rule will be costly to businesses, Hopper said. “When a water or property is determined to be covered under the act because it contains so-called navigable waters, then the EPA and the Corps obtain a veto power over the use of that property, so the landowner cannot disturb those waters without federal approval. … That is no small thing as the Supreme Court has said; an individual permit costs around $270,000 and two years or more in the process.”
Hopper said the large number of suits from so many jurisdictions “suggests how broad the national opposition is.”
But the EPA said it held more than 400 meetings and reviewed more than 1 million public comments before finalizing the rule. It said protection of the nation’s streams and wetlands has been confusing and the new rule will establish clarity and “provide certainty to American businesses.”
The EPA said it will not regulate most ditches and groundwater or create new permitting requirements for farmers.