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EPA Clean Water Rules Stirring Controversy

Federal regulators are releasing sweeping new pollution regulations that cover 60 percent of water bodies in the United States. Florida farmers are worried and environmental activists are rejoicing.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rule spells out the federal government’s authority to regulate navigable bodies of water and upstream to the smaller ones that feed them.

Florida Farm Bureau national policy coordinate Janell Hendren worries the regulation reaches to agricultural canals and drainage ditches that are dry part of the year.

“If it ever has water running through it that looks kind of like a stream, they could potentially regulate the land around that and the use of that land.”

The rule is a response to a 2006 U.S. Supreme Court decision called Rapanos. The justices issued conflicting definitions of which water bodies the EPA’s can regulate, sowing confusion ever since.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam is blasting the Obama Administration for expanding EPA’s reach and failing to clear up the confusion.

But Earth Justice Attorney David Guest says the rule does just the opposite. It clarifies EPA’s authority to enforce the 1972 Clean Water Act as spelled out by the Supreme Court decision. He says it’s based on the court’s test of whether one water body has a quote, “significant nexus” to another.

“So the principle here is one that is sort of the core of environmental protection, the principle that everything is connected.”

Republicans in Congress are up in arms and calling for new legislation. Representative Gwen Graham, a North Florida Democrat, won’t say if she agrees with critics who call it an executive overreach.

“When you implement regulations, having the support and trust of those who are being regulated is really important.”

Guest says critics of the new rule are really opposed to the Clean Water Act. They’re angry because the rules will be harder to challenge because the Supreme Court has already ruled.

A Miami native, former WFSU reporter Jim Ash is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years of experience, most of it in print. He has been a member of the Florida Capital Press Corps since 1992.