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Georgia lawmakers, industry cheer water rule reversal
Chattahoochee Riverkeeper says rule needed to protect Lanier
Flat Creek is shown at Dorsey Street.

Georgia lawmakers are praising the Trump administration for reversing course on an update to the Clean Water Act that critics have blasted as federal overreach.

The Obama-era Waters of the United States regulation would have allowed federal oversight on a swath of private and state waters — from large wetlands down to ditches. The rule attracted intense opposition from Republican lawmakers and lawsuits from states, including a suit filed by then-Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt — now the head of the Environmental Protection Agency.

States and businesses had yet to feel the pinch from the regulation. The EPA rule was stayed by the 6th District Court of Appeals in 2015 after multiple lawsuits; the EPA has been enforcing prior regulations for the past two years.

On Tuesday, the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers announced the first steps to reversing course on the federal regulation, which was one of a series of environmental rules created by the Obama administration.

Supporters of the rule argue that it protects drinking water quality for large numbers of Americans, while opponents say it would have given the federal government too much power over non-federal land.

Georgia Republican Sens. Johnny Isakson and David Perdue said the announcement from the EPA and the Army Corps was a victory for Georgia farmers.

“Federal government bureaucrats should not have the ability to control our streams, creeks, wetlands, ponds and ditches,” Isakson said.

Meanwhile, Perdue said United States citizens “finally have a president who is taking our concerns seriously. This Obama-era rule was a blatant overreach from the federal government.”

In a Tuesday announcement, U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, said the rule was “illogical and overreaching” and would burden Northeast Georgia agriculture and small business.

However, the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper argues opposition to the rule has been overblown, said headwaters watershed protection specialist Dale Caldwell of the group’s Gainesville office, while also noting that the Clean Water Act has been critical to the United States.

“Keep in mind that every citizen in this nation depends on the Clean Water Act in order to have water that is drinkable, swimmable and fishable,” Caldwell said. “Before the act, some of our nation’s rivers were so toxic that they literally caught on fire.”

Meanwhile, he said it was impossible to keep bodies of water like Lake Lanier clean without regulations like the Waters of the United States rule.

“It is important to keep in mind that laws that prevent one from discharging toxins into Lake Lanier are pointless if there aren’t laws that prevent the discharge of toxins in the headwaters of creeks that flow into the Chattahoochee River before flowing into Lake Lanier,” Caldwell said on Wednesday.

Mike Giles, head of the Gainesville-based Georgia Poultry Federation, said the rollback of the rule was “welcome news” to the state’s poultry farmers.

Georgia’s poultry industry had provided comments opposing the regulation while it was being drafted, Giles said, noting that the “expanded jurisdiction” of the federal government into new waterways was cause for concern.

“There was a lot of concern in agriculture generally across the country about the impact the expanded jurisdiction would have,” he said on Wednesday.

Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce CEO Kit Dunlap said the group’s membership includes businesses, governments and nonprofits — including Chattahoochee Riverkeeper — and that the chamber had not taken a position on the issue. Lake Lanier Association Executive Director Joanna Cloud also said her organization had not been involved in the debate.

With Trump’s February executive order commanding a reversal on the regulation and the announcement from the EPA and the corps on Tuesday, all that’s left is for the federal government to follow procedure for updating federal regulations, according to the EPA.

Instead of updating its code to include the Waters of the United States rule, the environmental regulator will instead revert to its pre-2015 rules, wiping the new rule from the books.

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