Saratoga County

Saratoga County supervisors wary of federal push to regulate streams

The county Board of Supervisors may come out against a proposed expansion of federal authority to re

The county Board of Supervisors may come out against a proposed expansion of federal authority to regulate small streams and other water bodies.

The board’s Legislative and Research Committee on Monday urged the board to oppose “draft guidance” for administering the federal Clean Waters Act currently under consideration by two federal agencies.

The proposals from the Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers would increase the federal focus on protecting small streams that feed into larger streams and bodies of water, in an effort to reduce water pollution.

The Clean Waters Act, written by Congress in 1972, refers to regulating “navigable waters,” and critics believe the new proposed rules would expand their definition too much.

“My own view is that if Congress wanted to regulate those, they would not have used the term ‘navigable waters,’ ” said committee Chairman Paul Sausville, R-Malta.

The New York Farm Bureau asked the county to take a stand against the proposed rules, citing the potential for increased regulation of runoff from farming activities.

“This is something the EPA is just trying to slam through,” said William Hamilton, regional field adviser for the Farm Bureau. “For farmers already under financial strain, it’s a tremendous additional burden.”

The EPA, however, said that with the proposed changes it is looking to provide “more predictable and consistent procedures for identifying waters and wetlands protected under the Clean Water Act.”

The new guidance was first proposed in April 2011, and is now under final consideration.

Critics have said the agencies are considering the changes as “guidance” because Congress has refused to consider expanding their authority legislatively. Indeed, Republican leaders in the House of Representatives have criticized the proposals from the Obama administration agencies.

“The U.S. EPA and Army Corps of Engineers’ plan to dramatically increase their own authorities under the Clean Water Act by radically expanding the scope of federal jurisdiction is unacceptable,” said Congressman Bob Gibbs, R-Ohio, chairman of the House Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment.

EPA officials said they’re only trying to be more effective in preventing water pollution.

“The guidance is focused on protection of smaller waters that feed into larger ones, to keep downstream water safe from upstream pollutants,” the EPA said in a statement. “The focus is also on reaffirming protection for wetlands that filter pollution and store water and help keep communities safe from floods.”

County officials said they’re concerned the proposed rules would also extend the federal government’s authority to require permits and pollution prevention measures for roadside ditches and for public works projects, thereby increasing municipal costs to comply with the regulations.

In its explanation of the new rules, the EPA says it will comply with all U.S. Supreme Court decisions — including a 2006 decision that limited federal authority over waters that don’t drain into larger navigable water bodies. The agency also says existing exemptions for agricultural discharges will continue.

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