Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Environment Michigan: EPA proposes major protections for Michigan’s streams and wetlands

From Environment Michigan
Press release sent March 25, 2014

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- On Tuesday, March 25, in the biggest step forward for clean water nationally in more than a decade, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed a rule to close loopholes in the Clean Water Act that leave 48 percent of Michigan’s streams and millions of acres of wetlands at risk of unchecked pollution and development.

"With the drinking water for 1.4 million Michiganders at risk, we’re thrilled to see the EPA moving forward to protect our waterways," said Shelley Vinyard, regional director with Environment Michigan, which has worked for many years to restore these Clean Water Act protections. "Today’s action is about ensuring that all our water is safe and healthy. And it has a huge impact on the health of the Great Lakes. Whether we’re fishing on the Au Sable, swimming in our favorite stream, or just drinking the water that comes from our tap, we need Michigan’s streams and wetlands to be clean and protected."

This rulemaking comes after a decade of uncertainty over the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act, following polluter-led Supreme Court challenges in 2001 and 2006. The rule, which could be finalized as soon as later this year, would restore Clean Water Act protections to many of Michigan’s wetlands and nearly half of Michigan’s streams.

"This rule would protect the streams that feed into and the wetlands that filter pollution out of our Great Lakes," said Vinyard. "If we don’t protect these critical waters, we can’t ensure that any of our waterways are fully protected."

With so much at stake, Environment Michigan and its sister groups across the country have waged an intensive multi-year campaign to restore these Clean Water Act protections -- including more than 1 million face-to-face conversations with people across the country, and rallying more than 400 local elected officials, 300 farmers, and 300 small business owners to call on the Obama administration to take action.      

In September 2013, EPA announced it was moving forward with the rulemaking to restore Clean Water Act protections to waterways throughout Michigan and across the country. It simultaneously released a draft science report on the connection between smaller streams and wetlands and downstream waters, which makes the scientific case for the rulemaking. Members of the public submitted more than 150,000 public comments in support of the report’s findings that these waterways merit protection under the law.

Many of the nation’s biggest polluters are already weighing in against the rulemaking, spreading misinformation about the rule’s potential impacts. While the EPA has announced the rule will preserve all existing Clean Water Act exemptions for the agricultural sector, the American Farm Bureau is insisting that the rulemaking is "a land grab" by the EPA and cause for "battle." The American Farm Bureau Federation is one of 28 members of the Waters Advocacy Coalition, an industry group formed to lobby against clean water protections.

"When finalized, this rule would be the biggest step forward for clean water nationwide in more than a decade," said Vinyard. "Thank you, Administrator Gina McCarthy and the EPA for fighting to protect clean water. Now let’s get the job done."

* Editor's Note: The EPA needs to hear from more Michigan citizens concerned about the water. Visit Environment Michigan and click on Help Protect the Great Lakes to send a note to the EPA.

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