The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed a change in definition of “waters of the United States” under the Clean Water Act (CWA). The move represents a long running argument between interested parties and how broad the definition should be. The definition hinges on what “navigable waters” means. A prior rule change in 2015 was intended to widen the definition to include wetlands, smaller streams, and tributaries—even waterways that do not flow year-round—under the premise that all these waterways feed into navigable waters. Under the current proposal, the definition would limit this to waters adjacent to major bodies of water or connected by surface water to a major waterway. The EPA indicates this will clarify the definition and better delineate between federal and state protected waterways. Essentially, it would reduce the number of waterways under federal regulation.
But what does this all mean for businesses? First and most important, nothing is law yet. Just as the 2015 change faced legal challenges (it has been temporarily blocked by courts in 28 states), this proposal still needs to undergo public comment and is likely to face legal challenges. Also, states are still able to regulate waterways and enact stricter regulations than the federal laws. The bottom line is, if this proposal is enacted, it will potentially reduce the amount of waterways businesses need to consider when reviewing their environmental impact and compliance with the CWA.
If you would like to know how Freer Consulting can help your organization comply with current and potential future CWA and state regulations, contact us at (206) 285-9044 or [email protected].