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EPA, Army Corps Extend Comment Period For Rule Clarifying Water Act Jurisdiction

Bloomberg BNA: EPA, Army Corps Extend Comment Period For Rule Clarifying Water Act Jurisdiction
By Amena H. Saiyidi
June 10, 2014

The Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers confirmed that the public has until Oct. 20 to comment on a proposed rule that would clarify Clean Water Act jurisdiction over the nation's waters and wetlands.

The agencies said June 10 that they are granting the 90–day extension from the initial July 21 date in response to numerous requests, including letters from state environmental officials, industry groups and Republican lawmakers.

After a private meeting with several Western governors, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy told reporters June 10 that some of the governors raised concerns about the proposed rule.

“There's a lot of concern among agricultural interests in their states and what the industry has read into it,” she said. “We need some time to get out there and, if need be, write the rule in a way so the intent is understood.”

The proposed “Waters of the United States” rule, which the EPA published April 21, would bring under federal jurisdiction all tributaries of streams, lakes, ponds and impoundments, as well as wetlands that affect the chemical, physical and biological integrity of larger, navigable downstream waters (79 Fed. Reg. 2,218); (77 DER A-13, 4/22/14).

Interpretive Rule Deadline Extended

The agencies also granted a 30-day extension until July 7 to comment on an accompanying interpretive rule, which took effect immediately. The interpretive rule codified 56 agricultural practices that will be exempt from obtaining Section 404 dredge and fill permits if the activities occur in waters covered by the Clean Water Act.

In a statement, Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau, called the proposal “a highly burdensome rule” and said, “Rest assured we will use that time to its best advantage. We will ditch this rule.”

The agencies extended the comment period a day before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment is scheduled to hold a public hearing to examine the potential impacts of the joint rulemaking.

In a draft fiscal year 2015 spending bill for energy and water programs, House appropriators included language to bar the corps from writing, promulgating and enforcing the proposed rule.

Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), chairman of the House Small Business Committee, praised the agencies for extending the comment period, saying in a statement June 10, “We told the agencies that they need to listen to America's small businesses, farmers and ranchers about the costly impact of this rule. The decision to give more time for input, as we suggested, is a step in the right direction.”