If I Put Deadly Poison Into Your Smaller Veins, Is It Not Murder?
Yesterday, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to express disapproval of a rule submitted by the Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency relating to the definition of “waters of the United States” under the Federal Water Pollution Control Act. (The Federal Water Pollution Control Act is the name of the legislation from the 1940s that was reorganized into the Clean Water Act in the 1970s.)
The rule that the US house of representatives disapproved of yesterday was created by the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers to clarify that the Clean Water Act applies to streams, tributaries and wetlands in a specific number of ways. Industry and industrial agriculture groups have complained that the rule would restrict ordinary farming activities, and construction activities next to ephemeral storm drainage ditches.
Reviewing the rule, the Congressional Research Service finds that it “makes no change to existing statutory exclusions, such as CWA permit exemptions for normal farming and ranching activities.” Furthermore, despite worries expressed by farmers and others that their ephemeral drainage ditches would become subject to regulation under the rule, the final rule clearly states that only ditches that have been created from existing natural tributaries would be covered under the Clean Water Act. Stormwater drainage systems would not be covered under the Clean Water Act.
The purpose of the rule is to clearly explain the federal jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act, not to expand its implementation. In fact, the Congressional Research Service reports that the new rule would actually slightly reduce EPA coverage of waterways under the Clean Water Act.
In short, the rule that Republicans in Congress just voted to disapprove of is designed to make the regulatory process easier, not more difficult, and actually create a more restricted implementation of the Clean Water Act. It won’t do the things they say it will do. The new rule is exactly the opposite of environmental regulation gone out of control. It’s restriction of environmental regulation.
So, why are the Republicans voting to disapprove of the new rule? Industry lobbying groups are working from innuendo and rumor, presuming that if a rule comes out of the Obama Administration EPA, it must be a terrible thing designed to force more regulation on the country. Congressional Republicans are going along with this argument in order to make these lobbying groups happy, or simply because they just don’t know any better. Yesterday’s vote was an unthinking reflex.
The truth is, we need better and additional regulation of pollution going into our nation’s waterways. This new EPA rule does not provide the additional protection we need, and the Republican objection to it is based on a crazy idea that pollution doesn’t matter so long as it takes place in small streams that feed into big rivers, rather than in the big rivers themselves. Their rhetoric is akin to the argument that, so long as deadly poisons are injected into small veins rather than large ones, the injection doesn’t constitute murder.
Republican obstruction of effective protections against water pollution is not just an absurdity, however. It is literally toxic.