Fox News and other conservative media are calling a new proposal to protect waterways “one of the biggest land grabs” ever that will give a government agency “control of all private property.” The rule, which could help protect the drinking water of 117 million Americans, would only resolve which bodies of water are protected from pollution under the current jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act.
On March 25, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a draft proposal to clarify which bodies of water are under the protection of the Clean Water Act (CWA), to “increase CWA program predictability and consistency.” The new rule, proposed jointly with the Army Corps of Engineers, follows research showing that streams, wetlands, and other relatively small bodies of water “are connected to and have important effects on downstream waters,” so they necessitate protection from pollution under the Act as it stands today.
Conservative media, claiming that the EPA is overextending its reach, are forecasting drastic consequences that simply aren't true. Examiner.com accused the government agency of “veritable land theft” by “expanding government control,” and predicted that “it won't be far for the EPA to declare control over any land that gets wet or is rained upon.” Breitbart called it “one of the biggest land grabs by the federal government ever perpetrated on the American public.” And on the March 26 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends First, co-host Heather Childers introduced the rule by saying “It's not your land -- The EPA's latest move that gives them control of all private property.” Childers went on to assert that the clarification “could be one of the biggest private property grabs in history, according to Republicans. The EPA wants control of all bodies of water, no matter how small, even if they're on private property.”
But EPA administrator Gina McCarthy clarified in a press call that the proposed regulation will “not expand the Clean Water Act... it does not protect any new types of water that have not historically been covered under the Clean Water Act.” Rather, the new rule will clarify that the Clean Water Act covers the streams and wetlands that have the potential to pollute currently protected waterways, bodies of water that have been in "legal limbo" for over 10 years. Two Supreme Court rulings in 2001 and 2006 failed to provide any real clarity on the subject, and raised questions about the applicability of the CWA that are still unanswered (sub req) -- according to many lawyers, the 2006 ruling only resulted in “confusion.” McCarthy explained about the recent clarification, “this is about streamlining the process and saving money. We're providing certainty about what's in and what's out.”
Relatively minor water sources, including the intermittent, ephemeral streams and headwaters included in the EPA's draft proposal, affect the drinking water of about 117 million people. But without the needed clarity proposed by the EPA, companies that dump pollution into smaller streams which lead into larger waterways -- rather than dumping into the waterway itself -- are exempt from the Clean Water Act. As a result, water pollution rates have been increasing.
The EPA proposal came on the same day that the House passed a bill that would allow coal mining waste to be dumped into streams, a ruling that was overlooked by Fox News.*
*Based on a search of internal video archives for “coal” on March 25-26.