EPA Extends WOTUS Comment Period to Nov. 14

On Oct. 6, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced that it would extend the comment period for the second time on the proposed “Waters of the United States” rule. The deadline to submit comments has been extended from Oct. 20 to Nov. 14.

Earlier this spring, the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposed a rule to define the scope of waters protected by the Clean Water Act, also known as “Waters of the U.S.” (WOTUS). According to both agencies, the rule aims to make the process of identifying these waters less complicated and more efficient – clearly defining which types of waterways are protected and which ones are not. Opponents – including the Georgia Forestry Association (GFA), the Georgia Agribusiness Council (GAC) and the Georgia Farm Bureau (GFB) – contend that the rule inappropriately expands EPA’s jurisdiction over lands that arguably have negligible, if any, impact on the nation’s water quality.

The agency already extended the comment period from 90 days to 182 days, and now for an additional 25 days. In a statement regarding the extension, EPA said it would not finalize the rule until it has fully reviewed the Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) peer review of the report titled, Connectivity of Streams and Wetlands to Downstream Waters. The study notes the connectivity between tributaries, adjacent waters, and other open waters to the quality of downstream waters.

In an attempt to stop what it characterized as the EPA’s “federal overreach,” the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 5078: WOTUS Regulatory Overreach Protection Act of 2014 on Sept. 9, which requires that the House and Senate have an opportunity to provide input on the regulation before approval. The bill currently awaits a vote in the Senate.

expoSeveral business organizations have raised concerns, advocating for support of H.R. 5078. GFA recently supported a public awareness initiative led by GAC and GFB at the Sunbelt Ag Expo on Oct. 15. In six hours, more than 1,000 attendees at the Expo signed a 12-foot, petition-style banner urging the rule be withdrawn and re-initiated with landowner input and voted on by Members of Congress

“The message is simple,” GAC President Bryan Tolar said. “It is not that we don’t want clean water or are opposed to making changes to the Clean Water Act; we need a process that will allow landowners to provide input on it and Congress – the people we elected – to vote on it.”

GAC mailed the memento with a cover letter to EPA on October 20th, ahead of the Nov. 14 deadline.

GFB continues to promote the submission of comments with its “Ditch the Rule” campaign that aims to provide information and provide stakeholders an easily accessible way to submit comments. More information on this campaign can be found at www.gfb.org/ditchtherule.

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