The Environmental Protection Agency took public opposition to plans to extend its regulatory reach to ditches and ponds “extremely seriously” but will forge ahead anyway, a top agency official told Congress on Wednesday.
Ken Kopocis, who runs the agency’s Office of Water, told a House panel the EPA will expand its power under the Clean Water Act in Spring. He said the new rule will not be revealed until the it is finalized and no additional public comment would be accepted
The EPA argues that the new rule, known as Waters of the United States or WOTUS, will reduce confusion about which waterways are subject to the Clean Water Act and will help states protect the environment and drinking water.
The idea to expand authority under the Clean Water Act has been kicked around for years. The current proposal by the EPA and Army Corps of Engineer was formally introduced in April 2014, triggering the initial comment period.
Rep. Bob Gibbs, Ohio Republican and chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment, asked Mr. Kopocis whether “significant” changes had been made to the rule.
“We do believe that we have made some changes to the rule based on the many comments that we received, either at the 400-plus public meetings and at least 1 million public comments,” said Mr. Kopocis.
Pressed by Mr. Gibbs to divulge the ratio of positive comments to negative comments on the rule, Mr. Kopocis demurred.
He said many of the comments both pro and con were part of mass mailing campaigns, and the EPA discarded them.
“You know, we don’t have to read 100,000 of those identical postcards. But in terms of the numbers and how they break down, I don’t have those numbers but I can get that for you,” he said.
Mr. Gibbs questioned how the EPA can go forward with the rule without knowing the breakdown of the comments. “It makes you wonder if you are really paying attention to those comments,” said Mr. Gibbs.
EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy this week apologized to a farmers convention for what she characterized as the botched rollout of the new rule. “I apologize for not doing this the right way in the beginning but I emphasize that in no way precludes us from getting this job done and getting it done right,” she told the National Farmers Union convention in Wichita, Kansas.
The entire episode has underscored the distrust some Americans harbor against the EPA.
The House attempted to address one aspect of the distrust, passing a bill that would require the EPA to base its regulations on the best available science that is publicly available.
“Many Americans are unaware that some of the EPA’s most expensive and burdensome regulations, such as its proposed ozone rules, are based on data that not even the EPA has seen,” said Lamar Smith, Texas Republican and chairman of the Science, Spece and Technology Committee that produced the bill.
“Costly environmental regulations should only be based upon data that is available to independent scientists and the public and that can be verified. It’s time to restore faith in our government and return the power to the people,” he said.
The bill passed in a 241-175 vote split along party lines.