The state Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority is taking issue with a proposed federal rule that board members say could expand the number and types of waterways and wetlands regulated by the federal government.
The state a uthority approved a resolution last week in Baton Rouge that asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to rescind the proposed rule and start over. The comment period for the proposal was set to end on Friday.
“It’s going to have a devastating effect on parishes throughout the state,” said John Young, Jefferson Parish president and member of the authority that helps guide coastal restoration and protection in the state.
He said Jefferson Parish alone has more than 40 miles of drainage canals and ditches that could be added to those areas to be regulated if the proposed rule goes through.
EPA maintains that the proposed rule doesn’t protect any new types of water under the Clean Water Act and doesn’t “expand jurisdiction over ditches.” On a website for the proposal, the agency says the rule clarifies the kind of waters, such as wetlands and streams, protected by the act.
Earlier this year, EPA and the Corps put out the proposal for comment. The EPA’s website argues that further defining the kind of water covered by the Clean Water Act is necessary, as some streams aren’t clearly covered and therefore vulnerable to pollution. The changes are responses to U.S. Supreme Court decisions that EPA says created confusion about what waters are covered by the law.
Members of the state coastal authority said they are fearful it could force more permit applications into a system that is already slow, will cost state agencies more in oversight expenses and could end up with the feds regulating waters that aren’t currently regulated. “We need more clarity on how this will be imposed,” said Jerome Zeringue, chairman of the authority and governor’s executive assistant for coastal activities.
David Peterson, attorney with the authority, said looking at the maps that have been generated so far from the proposed regulations, the amount of water areas included are indeed more expansive.
“We have a terrible time getting permits right now,” said Windell Curole, member of the authority and general manager of the South Lafourche Levee District. “To add all of these other permits to bog down the system will make it even worse.”
When the Clean Water Act was first put in place in the 1970s, it was to address rivers that were burning because of pollution. The cleanup of the country’s water has come a long way and this proposed rule is just an unnecessary expansion, he said.
“We need to say this is going beyond what we need at this time,” Curole said.
Matt Rota, senior policy director with the Gulf Restoration Network, said he heard a lot of misinformation being given out about what the proposed rule would do and what it would impact.
In addition, he said he questions why the state Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority would be taking this up as an urgent issue.
“This would not increase any jurisdiction in the coastal zone,” he said, essentially because the entire federally defined coastal zone is already under the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act. “It’s not going to be changing what we’re doing as far as coastal restoration.”
He also said passing a resolution to oppose the proposed regulation changes at the same time the state is asking for money to do coastal restoration projects to rebuild coastal wetlands is counterproductive.
“If we’re complaining about having to get a permit to destroy wetlands, that sends a very bad message,” Rota said.
The discussion, like ones at previous authority meetings about the proposed rule, was held without inviting EPA representatives to address questions. Karen Gautreaux, authority member, requested that EPA be contacted to help answer questions the board might have at a future meeting.
Follow Amy Wold on Twitter, @awold10.