Inhofe: EPA’s Trying To Regulate Sewers

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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A top Senate Republican is worried the EPA’s new Clean Water Rule gives the agency the power to regulate sewers and stormwater systems — giving EPA a much more expansive reach than the agency had previously claimed.

Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe sent a letter to Jo-Ellen Darcy, the assistant secretary of the Army for Civil Works, and Ken Kopocis, who heads up the EPA’s Office of Water, asking them to clarify how the Clean Water Rule would impact city sewage systems.

“It has recently been brought to my attention that under your new rule, the Army and EPA are claiming the authority to regulate not only current streams and wetlands, but land where streams and wetlands may have existed long before the enactment of the Clean Water Act,” wrote Inhofe, the chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

“If you had adequately consulted with local governments before developing this rule, you would have known that many years ago it was common practice to construct city sewer and stormwater systems in existing streams,” Inhofe added. “Under your radical expansion of federal regulatory authority, these sewer and stormwater systems could now be regulated as waters of the United States, precluding their use to protect the public health and welfare of city residents.”

Many city sewer systems are located in former streams and waterways, including in historic cities like Washington, D.C. The EPA’s Clean Water Rule which redefined the agency’s authority over the “waters of the United States” allows the agency to regulate areas with that historically had water present. The EPA staff can determine this by using historical maps of waterways.

Inhofe also points out that the EPA’s water rule, which was finalized in June, defines a “tributary” as water that flows through even manmade features, like bridges and waste treatment systems. Which begs the question, will EPA regulate sewers?

Inhofe’s letter points to Washington, D.C. as an example of how problematic EPA’s water rule could be for cities across the country. The Washington Canal, for example, runs underneath the modern city, with only the lock keeper’s building left showing above the surface.

The canal was formed out of the Tiber Creek, a navigable waterway originating from northeast D.C. The historical presence of navigable water, which is now part of the Washington Canal that runs underneath the city, could be used by the EPA to justify regulating D.C.’s sewer systems.

But it’s not just D.C. that Inhofe is worried about. The senator is asking Obama administration officials if a modern sewer was built on a former stream or waterway, could it be regulated by the EPA?

“Many stormwater and sewer systems were built in areas that under the new rule may be considered ‘tributaries,’” Inhofe wrote. “Since they are not covered by the exclusions for ditches and stormwater management features, they may be regulated.”

The EPA did not respond to The Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment.

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