The PJ Tatler

EPA Water Rule Could Extinguish July Fourth Celebrations, Warn Senators

GOP senators warned the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency that a rulemaking effort to define waters under federal regulatory control could put the kibosh on July Fourth celebrations.

The “waters of the U.S.” rule would redefine “tributaries,” “adjacent waters,” and “neighboring waters” under the Clean Water Act, resulting in a broad expansion of government jurisdiction that could include backyard ditches, floodplains, ornamental creeks, and more.

“As Independence Day approaches, we write to express concern for a cherished Fourth of July tradition: celebratory fireworks to commemorate our nation’s founding. In the past few years, misguided citizen lawsuits have threatened community fireworks shows. We are concerned, on the eve of the celebration of this great nation’s founding, that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is set to foster expanded efforts to undermine this form of celebration,” 10 senators wrote to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. “If finalized, EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers’ (Corps) proposal to expand the Clean Water Act’s definition of the ‘waters of the United States’ may enable litigious environmental groups to jeopardize fireworks displays throughout the country.”

The senators, led by Environment and Public Works Committee Ranking Member David Vitter (R-La.), noted that Lake Tahoe nearly had to cancel its fireworks show over an environmentalist lawsuit that claimed the display would pollute the lake and violated the Clean Water Act.

“Similarly misguided approaches to the Clean Water Act have led some legal observers to question the future viability of community fireworks shows,” wrote the lawmakers.

“…If the proposed ‘waters of the United States’ rule becomes final and serves as the eventual basis for future citizen suits against those who organize fireworks shows, we fear few homeowners, communities, or local organizations will be able to conduct fireworks displays as they have for decades or longer.”

Senate Republicans launched a legislative effort last month to try to block the EPA from issuing the final “onerous” regulations. In March, the EPA began a “robust” 90-day “outreach effort” to gather input in shaping a final rule, maintaining that the directive isn’t groundbreaking but a clarification effort needed to clearly define streams and wetlands protection after Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006.

Critics, though, charged that the administration embarked on an unprecedented breach of private property rights without scientific basis.

The EPA wants to cover “most” seasonal and rain-dependent streams, which account for about 60 percent of stream miles in the country, arguing they have “a considerable impact on the downstream waters.”

Wetlands “near rivers and streams” would be protected under the CWA, and “other types of waters [that] may have more uncertain connections with downstream water and protection will be evaluated through a case specific analysis of whether the connection is or is not significant.”

Signing Vitter’s letter were Sens. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), Mike Johanns (R-Neb.), Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), and John Hoeven (R-N.D.).

“Commemorative fireworks displays have been a part of our nation’s history since its founding,” they wrote. “However, there are individuals and groups who would like to significantly limit this tradition through heavy-handed citizen suit litigation under the Clean Water Act and other laws.”

“Finalization of the proposed ‘waters of the United States’ rule could unduly encourage proponents of this tactic, lending further and additional reason for the withdrawal of the proposed rule. As we celebrate the Fourth of July later this week, we appreciate your attention to this important matter.”