New EPA, Army Corps Rules Add to Confusion About Protected U.S. Waterways

WASHINGTON (June 5, 2007) -- The Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers today released a long-awaited policy document that further muddies the waters regarding the waterways both agencies intend to protect due to a series of Supreme Court rulings on the scope of the Clean Water Act, according to policy experts at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).
"This document is guidance in name only. In effect, the EPA and the Corps are taking their field staff and the public out to the woods, blindfolding them, spinning them in circles, telling them to 'go west,' and calling that guidance," said Jon Devine, a senior attorney in the Clean Water Project at NRDC. "This move only underscores the need for Congress to pass the bipartisan Clean Water Restoration Act to restore protections for the nation’s water bodies."
According to NRDC, the so-called "guidance" issued today is flawed on several key points:

  • The "guidance" will not instruct field staff to fully protect the nation's surface water resources, instead indicating that many valuable waters will not be protected because of agency interpretations of the Supreme Court rulings. This underscores the need for federal legislation – the Clean Water Restoration Act – to ensure that all waters of the United States are protected.

  • The "guidance" will effectively eliminate protections for some streams, even though the Supreme Court has not struck down existing agency regulations that protect tributaries.

  • The "guidance" will leave important questions unanswered about whether and when waters can be protected, relying largely on case-by-case determinations, virtually guaranteeing further litigation, administrative delays, and confusion amongst regulated industries and the public.

  • The "guidance" is divorced from the real world -- that is, there is little or no analysis of what water resources will be lost as a consequence of its implementation, and what the resulting effect on water quality around the country will be.