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Here’s what the finalized Clean Water Rule says and why it’s causing controversy

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced Wednesday that they have finalized the Clean Water Rule, and it’s already causing an uproar in the industrial sector.

In a press release, the EPA stresses that the new rule is specifically meant “to clearly protect from pollution and degradation the streams and wetlands that form the foundation of the nation’s water resources.” The Clean Water Rule is aimed at reducing the pollution and destruction of the nation’s limited water resources and preserving them for uses in agriculture and as drinking water, both of which are vital to the well-being of U.S. as a whole.

The rule largely includes an outline of what exactly constitutes as the “waters of the United States,” or WOTUS. Among the slew of bodies of water now included are navigable waterways, their tributaries, headwaters, water near rivers and lakes that may impact its neighbor and even prairie potholes.

Industries such as oil and gas are concerned about how this new rule will affect them. Lee Fuller, the executive vice president of the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA), issued a statement on Wednesday in response to the Clean Water Rule expressing his ire on behalf of the organization.

“From farming to golf course management and home building to energy development, this new federal mandate will require landowners to obtain additional government permits and fulfill bureaucratic regulatory requirements,” Fuller stated.

The IPAA’s vice president asserts that the 297-page ruling now gives the federal government jurisdiction over nearly all waters in the U.S. and “will create substantial permitting and compliance burdens for few environmental benefits.” However, the EPA and Army Corps created the Clean Water Rule with quite the opposite intent.

“A Clean Water Act permit is only needed if a water is going to be polluted or destroyed. The Clean Water Rule only protects the types of waters that have historically been covered under the Clean Water Act,” the press release stresses. “It does not regulate most ditches and does not regulate groundwater, shallow subsurface flows or tile drains. It does not make changes to current policies on irrigation or water transfers or apply to erosion in a field. The Clean Water Rule addresses the pollution and destruction of waterways—not land use or private property rights.”

In related news, Farmers worry over reach of EPA water rules.

There has been particular emphasis on the fact that farmers have escaped any new permitting processes for the use of water and are exempt from the Clean Water Rule. A factsheet from the National Farmers Union even goes through the myths and facts of the Clean Water Rule’s impacts on agriculture, stating, “Any normal farming activity that does not result in a point source discharge of pollutants into waters of the U.S. still does not require a permit.”

The Clean Water Rule was not arrived at easily. Since work began to produce the mandate, involved agencies held more than 400 meetings with stakeholders nationwide, reviewed more than 1 million public comments, utilized more than 1,200 peer-reviewed, published scientific studies and worked to value the input from all sides.

“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,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy in EPA’s press release. “Protecting our water sources is a critical component of adapting to climate change impacts like drought, sea level rise, stronger storms, and warmer temperatures – which is why EPA and the Army have finalized the Clean Water Rule to protect these important waters, so we can strengthen our economy and provide certainty to American businesses.”

President Barack Obama released his input on the matter Wednesday after the rule’s announcement, saying, “This rule will provide the clarity and certainty businesses and industry need about which waters are protected by the Clean Water Act, and it will ensure polluters who knowingly threaten our waters can be held accountable.”

Despite the best efforts of the EPA and the Army Corps to quell any concerns about undue permitting processes, opponents of the Clean Water Rule, which even includes some farming organizations not entirely sold on the idea, are declaring the mandate a power-grab and have already begun to prepare lawsuits, according to Politico. Roughly 40 major energy companies, including oil giants Halliburton, BP, Shell and Chevron, have weighed in on the issue or lobbied against the rule.

The Clean Water Rule will not take effect until 60 days after it is published in the Federal Register.

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