• <div class="header-image" style="background-image: url(/live/image/gid/4/2611_Header_V6N2_web_4.rev.1518551584.jpg);">​</div><div class="header-background-color"/>

Clean Water Rule

November 26, 2015
The Clean Water Act was passed in 1972 and it gave the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the power to regulate the ‘waters of the United States’. This was largely accomplished by the creation of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) that required a permit be obtained before a pollutant could be discharged into ‘navigable waterways’.[1]

By Tabeen Hossain, C’17

This effort has been largely successful in reducing point-source pollution (direct points of discharge such as hazardous waste being dumped into a river from a pipe). The issue of non-point source pollutants (less direct discharge such as agricultural runoff) still remains a problem because the Clean Water Act didn’t have the scope it needed to adequately address the issue. These non-point source pollutants cause environmental damage that needs to be addressed soon and regulation should be increased to improve water quality on this front, but the original goal of the Clean Water Act was to attack point source pollutants, the main issue at the time it was passed. Recently, the EPA, in conjunction with the Army Corps of Engineers, undertook an initiative to clarify the definition of ‘waters of the US’ to further improve EPA oversight of point source pollutants being directly discharged into the nation’s waterways.

The change was first proposed in April 2014 and the ‘Clean Water Rule’ passed on June 29, 2015. It will go into effect on August 28, 2015. The definition of the ‘waters of the US’ became murky following a few Supreme Court cases, notably Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County (SWANCC) v. Army Corps of Engineers (2001) and Rapanos v. United States (2006). In the latter, wetlands adjacent to bodies of water protected by the Clean Water Act were destroyed. The EPA was attempting to regulate these wetlands as they contributed to larger bodies of water used for drinking. A similar case occurred in SWANCC, but with a less clear connection to the protected waters. These rulings took away much of the EPA’s power and have since made regulation difficult.[2]

This map shows the remaining wetlands in the United States with the red dots showing the more critical areas.

This map shows the remaining wetlands in the United States with the red dots showing the more critical areas

[3]

The new rule clarifies the power that the EPA has to regulate waters of the US and restores power to the EPA over smaller waterways that feed into the bigger ones, such as tributaries and headwaters, even if they don’t directly provide sources of drinking water or aren’t for recreational use.[4] The EPA held “400 meetings with stakeholders across the country, reviewed over one million public comments, and listened carefully to perspectives from all sides. The EPA and the Army also utilized the latest science, including a report summarizing more than 1,200 peer-reviewed, published scientific studies which showed that small streams and wetlands play an integral role in the health of larger downstream water bodies.”[5]

This was done in an effort to streamline regulation under the Clean Water Act, but once it goes into effect, people or companies that were previously exempt will become (potential) polluters that will need to get permits to do what they have already been doing. Opponents argue that this is federal overreach and will stifle development in certain industries. Now, more people will need to register with the NPDES, which opponents argue will cause undue burden. Davenport’s The New York Times piece explores some of these concerns: 

Farmers fear that the rule could impose major new costs and burdens, requiring them to pay fees for environmental assessments and to obtain permits just to till the soil near gullies, ditches or dry streambeds where water flows only when it rains. A permit is required for any activity, like farming or construction, that creates a discharge into a body of water covered under the Clean Water Act or affects the health of it, like filling in a wetland or blocking a stream…Industry groups also warned that enforcement of the new rule would create a profusion of lawsuits and other legal red tape. If property owners fail to apply for permits to build, till, develop or perform other potentially polluting activities near water bodies, they can be sued by the E.P.A. Environmental advocates and even private citizens will also be able to bring lawsuits against landowners who might be in violation of the regulations.[6]

It is true that people will have to change their old methods to accommodate this change.[7] While this will cause some difficulty, if someone’s activity isn’t harmful, then it won’t be a problem. Opponents are arguing that this will cause people to drastically change where they discharge pollutants, but if they are discharging pollutants harmful enough to need to be regulated, it’s for the best. Additionally, all of this is within the power that the EPA was given in 1972 - no new power has been awarded and no area that wasn’t under the EPA’s jurisdiction then will be now.[8]

According to the EPA, “about 117 million Americans – one in three people – get drinking water from streams that lacked clear protection before the Clean Water Rule”[9]. The EPA’s job includes regulating water and its mission is to protect human health. Water quality desperately needs to be improved and these sorts of problems need to be addressed. These farmers and corporations will also be getting better access to clean water. By expanding and clarifying the definition, the EPA is able to protect more people. Smaller bodies of water that might seem inconsequential are now being protected, but these bodies of water greatly affect the entire ecosystem and subsequently, human health. The EPA will be able to regulate waterways that need to be regulated, decrease pollution, and improve water quality for all. 

Works Cited

“Background on Clean Water Cases Before the Supreme Court.” Earthjustice. June 19, 2006. Accessed July 21, 2015. http://earthjustice.org/features/background-on-clean-water-cases-before-the-supreme-court.

Barth, Brian. “The EPA’s New Clean Water Rule and Why Agribusiness Wants to Overturn It - Modern Farmer.” Modern Farmer. July 13, 2015. Accessed July 21, 2015. http://modernfarmer.com/2015/07/the-epas-new-clean-water-rule-and-why-agribusiness-wants-to-overturn-it/.

Daguillard, Robert, and Lina Younes. “Clean Water Rule Protects Streams and Wetlands Critical to Public Health, Communities, and Economy.” News Releases by Date. May 27, 2015. Accessed July 21, 2015. http://yosemite.epa.gov/opa/admpress.nsf/0/62295CDDD6C6B45685257E52004FAC97.

Davenport, Coral. “Obama Announces New Rule Limiting Water Pollution.” The New York Times. May 27, 2015. Accessed July 21, 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/28/us/obama-epa-clean-water-pollution.html?_r=1.

“EPA.” Summary of the Clean Water Act. March 13, 2015. Accessed July 21, 2015. http://www2.epa.gov/laws-regulations/summary-clean-water-act.

“File:US Wetlands.svg.” Wikimedia Commons. March 21, 2011. Accessed July 21, 2015. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:US_Wetlands.svg.

Hoover, Kent. “EPA Would Have to Withdraw “waters of the U.S.” Rule under House-passed Bill Backed by Home Builders, Other Businesses.” The Business Journals. May 13, 2015. Accessed July 21, 2015. http://www.bizjournals.com/bizjournals/washingtonbureau/2015/05/house-backs-business-in-waters-war-with-epa.html.

Hoover, Kent. “EPA Finalizes Clean Water Rule; Businesses Contend Rule Expands Federal Control over Land Use.” The Business Journals. May 27, 2015. Accessed July 21, 2015. http://www.bizjournals.com/bizjournals/washingtonbureau/2015/05/epa-finalizes-waters-rule-businesses-say-it-will.html.

Hoover, Kent. “Business Groups Sue EPA over Clean Water Rule, Allege Small Business Impact Wasn’t Considered.” The Business Journals. July 13, 2015. Accessed July 21, 2015. http://www.bizjournals.com/bizjournals/washingtonbureau/2015/07/business-groups-sue-epa-over-water-rule-allege.html.

Maclean, Pam. “Sixteen States Sue EPA over Clean Water Rule.” Reuters. June 29, 2015. Accessed July 21, 2015. http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/06/29/us-usa-environment-water-epa-idUSKCN0P92QJ20150629.

Shepherd, Katie. “Under New EPA Rule, Clean Water Act Protections Will Cover All Active Tributaries.” Los Angeles Times. May 27, 2015. Accessed July 21, 2015. http://www.latimes.com/nation/nationnow/la-na-nn-epa-clean-water-act-20150527-story.html.

  [1] “EPA.” Summary of the Clean Water Act. March 13, 2015. Accessed July 21, 2015. http://www2.epa.gov/laws-regulations/summary-clean-water-act.

  [2] “Background on Clean Water Cases Before the Supreme Court.” Earthjustice. June 19, 2006. Accessed July 21, 2015. http://earthjustice.org/features/background-on-clean-water-cases-before-the-supreme-court.

  [3] “File:US Wetlands.svg.” Wikimedia Commons. March 21, 2011. Accessed July 21, 2015. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:US_Wetlands.svg.

  [4] Davenport, Coral. “Obama Announces New Rule Limiting Water Pollution.” The New York Times. May 27, 2015. Accessed July 21, 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/28/us/obama-epa-clean-water-pollution.html?_r=1.

  [5] Daguillard, Robert, and Lina Younes. “Clean Water Rule Protects Streams and Wetlands Critical to Public Health, Communities, and Economy.” News Releases by Date. May 27, 2015. Accessed July 21, 2015. http://yosemite.epa.gov/opa/admpress.nsf/0/62295CDDD6C6B45685257E52004FAC97.

  [6] Davenport, Coral. “Obama Announces New Rule Limiting Water Pollution.” The New York Times. May 27, 2015. Accessed July 21, 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/28/us/obama-epa-clean-water-pollution.html?_r=1.

   [7]Barth, Brian. “The EPA’s New Clean Water Rule and Why Agribusiness Wants to Overturn It - Modern Farmer.” Modern Farmer. July 13, 2015. Accessed July 21, 2015. http://modernfarmer.com/2015/07/the-epas-new-clean-water-rule-and-why-agribusiness-wants-to-overturn-it/.

  [8] Davenport, Coral. “Obama Announces New Rule Limiting Water Pollution.” The New York Times. May 27, 2015. Accessed July 21, 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/28/us/obama-epa-clean-water-pollution.html?_r=1.

  [9] Daguillard, Robert, and Lina Younes. “Clean Water Rule Protects Streams and Wetlands Critical to Public Health, Communities, and Economy.” News Releases by Date. May 27, 2015. Accessed July 21, 2015. http://yosemite.epa.gov/opa/admpress.nsf/0/62295CDDD6C6B45685257E52004FAC97.

Student Blog Disclaimer
  • The views expressed on the Student Blog are the author’s opinions and don’t necessarily represent the Penn Wharton Public Policy Initiative’s strategies, recommendations, or opinions.

PENN WHARTON PPI
RESOURCE SPOTLIGHT:

  • <h3>MapStats</h3><p> A feature of FedStats, MapStats allows users to search for <strong>state, county, city, congressional district, or Federal judicial district data</strong> (demographic, economic, and geographic).</p><p> Quick link: <a href="http://www.fedstats.gov/mapstats/" target="_blank">http://www.fedstats.gov/mapstats/</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>USDA Nutrition Assistance Data</h3><p><img width="180" height="124" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/180/height/124/485_usda_logo.rev.1407789238.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image485 lw_align_right" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/4/width/180/height/124/485_usda_logo.rev.1407789238.jpg 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/4/width/180/height/124/485_usda_logo.rev.1407789238.jpg 3x" data-max-w="1233" data-max-h="850"/>Data and research regarding the following <strong>USDA Nutrition Assistance</strong> programs are available through this site:</p><ul><li>Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) </li><li>Food Distribution Programs </li><li>School Meals </li><li>Women, Infants and Children </li></ul><p> Quick link: <a href="http://www.fns.usda.gov/data-and-statistics" target="_blank">http://www.fns.usda.gov/data-and-statistics</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>Federal Reserve Economic Data (FRED®)</h3><p><strong><img width="180" height="79" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/180/height/79/481_fred-logo.rev.1407788243.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image481 lw_align_right" data-max-w="222" data-max-h="97"/>An online database consisting of more than 72,000 economic data time series from 54 national, international, public, and private sources.</strong> FRED®, created and maintained by Research Department at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, goes far beyond simply providing data: It combines data with a powerful mix of tools that help the user understand, interact with, display, and disseminate the data.</p><p> Quick link to data page: <a href="http://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/tags/series" target="_blank">http://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/tags/series</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>Internal Revenue Service: Tax Statistics</h3><p><img width="155" height="200" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/155/height/200/486_irs_logo.rev.1407789424.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image486 lw_align_left" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/4/width/155/height/200/486_irs_logo.rev.1407789424.jpg 2x" data-max-w="463" data-max-h="596"/>Find statistics on business tax, individual tax, charitable and exempt organizations, IRS operations and budget, and income (SOI), as well as statistics by form, products, publications, papers, and other IRS data.</p><p> Quick link to <strong>Tax Statistics, where you will find a wide range of tables, articles, and data</strong> that describe and measure elements of the U.S. tax system: <a href="http://www.irs.gov/uac/Tax-Stats-2" target="_blank">http://www.irs.gov/uac/Tax-Stats-2</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>Federal Aviation Administration: Accident & Incident Data</h3><p><img width="100" height="100" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/100/height/100/80_faa-logo.rev.1402681347.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image80 lw_align_left" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/4/width/100/height/100/80_faa-logo.rev.1402681347.jpg 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/4/width/100/height/100/80_faa-logo.rev.1402681347.jpg 3x" data-max-w="550" data-max-h="550"/>The NTSB issues an accident report following each investigation. These reports are available online for reports issued since 1996, with older reports coming online soon. The reports listing is sortable by the event date, report date, city, and state.</p><p> Quick link: <a href="http://www.faa.gov/data_research/accident_incident/" target="_blank">http://www.faa.gov/data_research/accident_incident/</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>Congressional Budget Office</h3><p><img width="180" height="180" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/180/height/180/380_cbo-logo.rev.1406822035.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image380 lw_align_right" data-max-w="180" data-max-h="180"/>Since its founding in 1974, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has produced independent analyses of budgetary and economic issues to support the Congressional budget process.</p><p> The agency is strictly nonpartisan and conducts objective, impartial analysis, which is evident in each of the dozens of reports and hundreds of cost estimates that its economists and policy analysts produce each year. CBO does not make policy recommendations, and each report and cost estimate discloses the agency’s assumptions and methodologies. <strong>CBO provides budgetary and economic information in a variety of ways and at various points in the legislative process.</strong> Products include baseline budget projections and economic forecasts, analysis of the President’s budget, cost estimates, analysis of federal mandates, working papers, and more.</p><p> Quick link to Products page: <a href="http://www.cbo.gov/about/our-products" target="_blank">http://www.cbo.gov/about/our-products</a></p><p> Quick link to Topics: <a href="http://www.cbo.gov/topics" target="_blank">http://www.cbo.gov/topics</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>The World Bank Data (U.S.)</h3><p><img width="130" height="118" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/130/height/118/484_world-bank-logo.rev.1407788945.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image484 lw_align_left" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/4/width/130/height/118/484_world-bank-logo.rev.1407788945.jpg 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/4/width/130/height/118/484_world-bank-logo.rev.1407788945.jpg 3x" data-max-w="1406" data-max-h="1275"/>The <strong>World Bank</strong> provides World Development Indicators, Surveys, and data on Finances and Climate Change.</p><p> Quick link: <a href="http://data.worldbank.org/country/united-states" target="_blank">http://data.worldbank.org/country/united-states</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>NOAA National Climatic Data Center</h3><p><img width="200" height="198" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/200/height/198/483_noaa_logo.rev.1407788692.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image483 lw_align_left" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/4/width/200/height/198/483_noaa_logo.rev.1407788692.jpg 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/4/width/200/height/198/483_noaa_logo.rev.1407788692.jpg 3x" data-max-w="954" data-max-h="945"/>NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) is responsible for preserving, monitoring, assessing, and providing public access to the Nation’s treasure of <strong>climate and historical weather data and information</strong>.</p><p> Quick link to home page: <a href="http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/" target="_blank">http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/</a></p><p> Quick link to NCDC’s climate and weather datasets, products, and various web pages and resources: <a href="http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/data-access/quick-links" target="_blank">http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/data-access/quick-links</a></p><p> Quick link to Text & Map Search: <a href="http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/cdo-web/" target="_blank">http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/cdo-web/</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>National Bureau of Economic Research (Public Use Data Archive)</h3><p><img width="180" height="43" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/180/height/43/478_nber.rev.1407530465.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image478 lw_align_right" data-max-w="329" data-max-h="79"/>Founded in 1920, the <strong>National Bureau of Economic Research</strong> is a private, nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization dedicated to promoting a greater understanding of how the economy works. The NBER is committed to undertaking and disseminating unbiased economic research among public policymakers, business professionals, and the academic community.</p><p> Quick Link to <strong>Public Use Data Archive</strong>: <a href="http://www.nber.org/data/" target="_blank">http://www.nber.org/data/</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>The Penn World Table</h3><p> The Penn World Table provides purchasing power parity and national income accounts converted to international prices for 189 countries/territories for some or all of the years 1950-2010.</p><p><a href="https://pwt.sas.upenn.edu/php_site/pwt71/pwt71_form.php" target="_blank">Quick link.</a> </p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>HUD State of the Cities Data Systems</h3><p><strong><img width="200" height="200" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/200/height/200/482_hud_logo.rev.1407788472.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image482 lw_align_left" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/4/width/200/height/200/482_hud_logo.rev.1407788472.jpg 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/4/width/200/height/200/482_hud_logo.rev.1407788472.jpg 3x" data-max-w="612" data-max-h="613"/>The SOCDS provides data for individual Metropolitan Areas, Central Cities, and Suburbs.</strong> It is a portal for non-national data made available through a number of outside institutions (e.g. Census, BLS, FBI and others).</p><p> Quick link: <a href="http://www.huduser.org/portal/datasets/socds.html" target="_blank">http://www.huduser.org/portal/datasets/socds.html</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>National Center for Education Statistics</h3><p><strong><img width="400" height="80" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/400/height/80/479_nces.rev.1407787656.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image479 lw_align_right" data-max-w="400" data-max-h="80"/>The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) is the primary federal entity for collecting and analyzing data related to education in the U.S. and other nations.</strong> NCES is located within the U.S. Department of Education and the Institute of Education Sciences. NCES has an extensive Statistical Standards Program that consults and advises on methodological and statistical aspects involved in the design, collection, and analysis of data collections in the Center. To learn more about the NCES, <a href="http://nces.ed.gov/about/" target="_blank">click here</a>.</p><p> Quick link to NCES Data Tools: <a href="http://nces.ed.gov/datatools/index.asp?DataToolSectionID=4" target="_blank">http://nces.ed.gov/datatools/index.asp?DataToolSectionID=4</a></p><p> Quick link to Quick Tables and Figures: <a href="http://nces.ed.gov/quicktables/" target="_blank">http://nces.ed.gov/quicktables/</a></p><p> Quick link to NCES Fast Facts (Note: The primary purpose of the Fast Facts website is to provide users with concise information on a range of educational issues, from early childhood to adult learning.): <a href="http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/" target="_blank">http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/#</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>