WASHINGTON - Drinking water for 117 million Americans will be protected under new rules shielding small streams, tributaries and wetlands from pollution and development, the Obama administration said Wednesday.
The White House said the rules would provide much-needed clarity for landowners, but some Republicans and farm groups said they go much too far. House Speaker John A. Boehner (R., Ohio) declared they would send "landowners, small businesses, farmers, and manufacturers on the road to a regulatory and economic hell."
The rules, issued by the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, are designed to clarify which smaller waterways fall under federal protection after two Supreme Court rulings had left the reach of the Clean Water Act uncertain. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said the waters affected would be those with a "direct and significant" connection to larger bodies of water downstream that are already protected.
The Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006 left 60 percent of nation's streams and millions of acres of wetlands without clear federal protection, according to EPA. The new rules say a tributary must show evidence of flowing water to be protected - such as a bank or a high water mark. The regulations would kick in and force a permitting process only if a business or landowner took steps to pollute or destroy those waters.
President Obama said in a statement that the rules will provide needed clarity for business and industry and "will ensure polluters who knowingly threaten our waters can be held accountable."
The rules face deep opposition from the Republican-led Congress and farmers concerned that every stream, ditch, and puddle on their private land could now be subject to federal oversight. The House voted to block the regulations earlier this month, and a similar effort is underway in the Senate.
Boehner called the rules "a raw and tyrannical power grab."