A long-awaited draft report released by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in late March could spell trouble for farmers, loggers, fruit, nut, and berry growers, and others who make their living from the land they own.
EPA’s “2008-2009 Draft Rivers and Streams Assessment” found that over half – or 55% – of the waterways from which data were collected “are in poor condition for aquatic life.” Data for the draft report were gathered from over 2,000 sites around the country. Nancy Stoner, assistant administrator in EPA’s Office of Water, said that America’s waterways are “under significant pressure,” adding that, “We must continue to invest in protecting and restoring our nation’s streams and rivers…”
Specifically, EPA’s report found that:
• Nitrogen and phosphorus are at excessive levels;
• Rivers and streams are at a growing risk due to decreased vegetation cover and increased human interference;
• Bacteria levels are rising; and
• Mercury levels are increasing.
Elaborating on the risk posed by decreased vegetation cover, the EPA report says that, “these conditions can cause streams and rivers to be more vulnerable to flooding, erosion, and pollution.” The agency claims that fully 24% of the waterways monitored were rated poor due to increased vegetation cover. Similarly, “Too much nitrogen and phosphorus in the water – known as nutrient pollution – causes significant increases in algae, which harms water quality food sources, and habitats, and decreases the oxygen that fish and other aquatic life need to survive.”
To anyone familiar with how EPA lays the groundwork for new regulatory initiatives, this latest draft report will be all too familiar. Having spent years collecting data on the condition of rivers and streams, and found these bodies of water needing additional “protection’ and “restoration,” the agency is making the case for action under the Clean Water Act (CWA).
This four-decade-old statute already gives EPA vast powers to impose new regulations – none of them requiring the consent of Congress. Various versions of legislation known as the “Clean Water Restoration Act” would have given EPA even more power by eliminating the word “navigable” from the phrase “navigable waters of the United States” in the CWA. That would have expanded the agency’s regulatory reach to include ditches, arroyos, pot holes and other isolated features unconnected to navigable waters. When Congress failed to pass the “Clean Water Restoration Act,” EPA came up with a “guidance” that would accomplished the same thing administratively.
EPA’s new rivers and streams report, even if it addresses legitimate environmental issues, is yet another effort by the agency to bypass Congress, and expand its already vast regulatory empire.