Georgia and eight other states are suing over new water regulations they say are an overreach by the federal government.
The Waters of the United States rule, issued by the Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers, seeks to clarify which smaller waterways fall under federal protection after two Supreme Court rulings had left the reach of the Clean Water Act uncertain.
According to the EPA, the waters affected would be only those with a “direct and significant” connection to larger bodies of water downstream that are already protected. It says the aim is to protect the waters from pollution and development and to safeguard drinking water.
Specifically, the new regulations, say that a tributary must show physical features of flowing water — a bed, bank and high water mark — to warrant protection.
The states involved in the lawsuit, filed June 30, allege the rule extends regulatory reach so far as to include roadside ditches and streams that are sometimes dry, according to a news release from Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens.
“The scope of the ‘Waters of the United States’ rule is breathtaking and will directly impact the everyday lives of Georgians, from farmers to homeowners,” Olens said in a news release. “Under this excessive and expensive rule, a farm pond, or even a homeowner’s backyard could be subject to federal regulation.”
Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black called the rule “federal overreach on steroids.”
The complaint asks the court to strike down the rule and prevent the federal agencies from enforcing it.
The states involved in the lawsuit “take extremely seriously their right and duty to protect the water and land resources within their borders, for the good of their citizens,” the complaint reads.
Horace Gee, Gainesville’s environmental services administrator, said at the time the new regulations were issued in late May that he believes they are “a good compromise everyone can live with.” He said the original, proposed rule would have regulated ditches and even ornamental ponds but that the rules were “relaxed a lot” after public comment.
Environmentalists and other clean water advocates praised the new rules when they were released.
“The science is solid. This rule does the right thing,” said Chris Manganiello, policy director for the Georgia River Network, at the time.
“Millions of Americans who drink water every day will benefit from a rule that clarifies protection for wetlands and headwater streams. Fish and wildlife will also benefit.”
The Chattahoochee Riverkeeper posted on its Facebook page that it’s disappointed in the state challenging the rule.
“The rule does not protect any new types of waters nor does it create any new permitting requirements,” the post stated. “In fact, the EPA’s and corps’ effort to more precisely define our waters should make it easier for businesses and industry to operate, not harder.”
Georgia joins Alabama, Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, South Carolina, Utah, West Virginia and Wisconsin in the lawsuit. Other states have filed their own challenges.