Water Policy:

Greenwire's Snider talks confusion, messaging on EPA rule proposal

As pressure mounts for U.S. EPA to address confusion and concerns relating to its Clean Water Act proposal, what are the key issues stakeholders have with the rule, and how could the politics of the proposal affect the midterm elections? On today's The Cutting Edge, Greenwire reporter Annie Snider discusses the latest moves by the agency, Congress and stakeholders as they all try to influence the future of the regulations.

Transcript

Monica Trauzzi: Welcome to The Cutting Edge. Pressure mounting on EPA to address criticism and concerns surrounding its Clean Water Act proposal. Greenwire's Annie Snider joins me with details on the latest moves by Congress, the agency and stakeholders. Annie, it's been a busy summer for the Clean Water Act. Following the April release of EPA's proposal we already started to see battle lines forming. What are the chief concerns that you're hearing about?

Annie Snider: So I think the concerns fall into three categories. The first -- you know, we hear a lot of terminology coming from opponents of this on Capitol Hill: federal overreach, you know, power grab. I think there's some philosophical divides here about the power of the federal government versus what should be left to the states.

Second is dollars and cents. The Clean Water Act has provisions that relate to permitting, so waters that are covered would require a permit if they're going to be impacted. So if I'm a construction company and I want to build a housing development and it impacts some wetlands or if I am an oil and gas company that wants to build a drilling pad through some streams, if those waters are covered, then I need a permit for that. Those permits can take time and cost money, so there's concern about the economic impact.

And then the third is what we've been hearing a lot about recently, what this means for agriculture. Agricultural producers have been exempt from key portions of the Clean Water Act for years. The administration says those exemptions remain intact in this proposal, but there's some concern about how this is written and whether that might end up narrowing them.

Monica Trauzzi: So Administrator McCarthy visited Missouri farm country last week and you were on that trip. You had the opportunity to sit down and speak with her as well. How aggressive is EPA being on the messaging surrounding this rule? And is there a sense that McCarthy sort of understands what the stakeholders are saying?

Annie Snider: So EPA has definitely stepped up its defense of this rule in recent weeks. There have been not just McCarthy but other top-level officials going out across the country trying to explain what they're intending to do here. So Missouri was definitely a high-profile trip. This was a major effort to reach out to the agricultural community and talk about -- you know, ditch the myths is the way that they put it, about the rules, some of the confusion that's out there.

So McCarthy did a farm tour while she was there and had a couple of interactions, a round table and a speech to agricultural groups. So there were folks in those rooms who walked in -- you know, their minds were made up. But there were other folks there who, you know, said they had some serious concerns about it, but you know, took her at her word about what the intention was. And McCarthy continually said, "This is what we intended to do with the rule, but if that's not how you're reading it, tell us how to fix it." And there were folks there who, you know, took that seriously and took it home.

Monica Trauzzi: Congress is getting involved. How quickly are the House and Senate moving on legislation?

Annie Snider: Very quickly. Already in the House we've had one approps bill that has a rider that would repeal this; another one's waiting in the wings. And this week we also saw the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee advance a bill that would not just block the regulatory proposal but would also create sort of a consultative mechanism with the states for dealing with some of the long-standing confusion here.

The real game is in the Senate. We have seen already the Senate Energy and Water Development bill was pulled over efforts to attach -- or to force votes on some environmental riders. Climate was in there. The water rule was as well. Climate was probably what got that pulled. But this would be a tough vote for moderate Dems.

Monica Trauzzi: So let's talk politics. What could this all mean for the midterm elections?

Annie Snider: So, you know, how much this actually matters at the ballot box is sort of an open question. Folks who support the rule say, "You know, look, clean water polls well; people care about that." Opponents are clearly tying this issue in with broader messaging around power grabs, you know, regulating puddles, that sort of thing. So it remains to be seen, but the folks to watch on this are moderate Democrats. Mary Landrieu came out immediately opposing the proposal, and there was already a test vote on this last year before the proposal was out. Fifty-two senators voted against it, so we'll see. If there's a 60-vote threshold this thing could be done.

Monica Trauzzi: The comment period on the proposal has been extended until October. What do you make of that move, and could we actually see some changes once that final rule comes out?

Annie Snider: So I don't think it surprised anybody that the comment period was extended. This is a long and complicated rule. The administration is, you know, pitching this as a real effort to engage stakeholders. At this point, you know, what the final rule looks like, I think anybody would expect that there would be some significant changes, at least to clarify what this means for agriculture. But right now the question is less what would be in a final rule as whether we'll get there.

Monica Trauzzi: All right, thanks for joining me, Annie. More Cutting Edge coming next Friday. We'll see you then.

[End of Audio]

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