Thursday, May 28, 2015

PA Hunters, Anglers Hail New Administration Water Rule

Dan Heyman, Public News Service (PA)

PHOTO: A new rule clarifying which waterways receive protection of the Clean Water Act is drawing praise from Pennsylvania hunters, anglers and conservationists. Photo credit: Kelly Donaldson/Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
PHOTO: A new rule clarifying which waterways receive protection of the Clean Water Act is drawing praise from Pennsylvania hunters, anglers and conservationists. Photo credit: Kelly Donaldson/Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
HARRISBURG, Pa. – The Obama administration has released a new rule clarifying which waterways are covered by the Clean Water Act. Pennsylvania hunters and anglers call it an excellent revision to the federal regulations that has gotten a bad rap.

Two court decisions have, in a sense, muddied the waters about what protections apply to a number of streams, creeks and wetlands. Jeff Sample, co-director of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers' Pennsylvania chapter, says the new Waters of the U.S. rule is simply clarifying the issue. But he says people are being frightened by misinformation about it.

"Basically, they're being fed this by commercial interests," Sample insists. "I understand people have a suspicious eye towards the government, and that's a healthy thing. But there are a number of myths out there, and a lot of them are just that – myths."

Some farm and mining groups and real estate developers say the new rules would cripple their operations by controlling every tiny stream and wetland. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says this isn't true. According to the agency, the new rule would clarify its jurisdiction to three percent of the country's surface area, all of which had been covered by the Clean Water Act before.

Sample stresses that the revised rule goes to great lengths to specify and enhance exemptions for farmers, ranchers and foresters, and says there are no new waters at issue.

"The waters that are protected, have been protected – and it's not a new 'land grab,'" he explains. "It's not new regulations affecting anything that any farmer or landowner was doing legally to begin with."

The Republican-led Congress is considering legislation to throw out the new Waters of the U.S. rule. Sample believes it would be a mistake. He says many of the waterways in question are small headwater streams and pothole wetlands, crucial for fish and wildlife habitat. He adds they are not only important for hunters and anglers, but for folks who get their drinking water downstream.

"It's a clarification of the act and what waters are covered, and this protects them," he says. "This protects their drinking water. It protects their hunters and fishermen."

While finalizing the rule, the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers held more than 400 public meetings and considered more than a million public comments. Nearly 90 percent of public comments favored the rule. 

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