EPA clarifies Clean Water Act definition

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WASHINGTON – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have announced they are taking action to better coordinate federal programs affecting protection of wetlands and streams.

New approach. Completing a regulation proposed by the Clinton administration in 2000, the Army Corps of Engineers is adopting EPA’s approach to the Clean Water Act’s definition of “fill material,” which has been in place since 1977.

The regulation will not only remove ambiguity from Clean Water Act’s regulations, but also enhance environmental protection of our wetlands and streams by prohibiting the dumping of trash or garbage in them.

In addition, the agencies will apply new conditions to permits issued to regulate the placement of dirt and rock from mountaintop mining in streams.

Regulations. The Department of Interior is also developing regulations intended to improve environmental protection by reducing the volume of mining discharges in streams.

EPA and the Corps, working with the Department of Interior’s Office of Surface Mining and Fish and Wildlife Service and the State of West Virginia, are preparing an Environmental Impact Statement evaluating the impacts of mountaintop removal mining in Appalachia and developing recommendations for further improvements in the agencies programs regulating this practice.

“We are committed to working with the affected states to reduce mining-related environmental impacts, while providing the nation with the advantages of cleaner burning coal,” EPA administrator Christie Whitman said.

Taking action. “Mountaintop mining is a long-established practice in Appalachia, and this administration is committed to working with the affected states to strengthen the environmental safeguards governing this practice.

“We are working to establish a regulatory environment that is clear, predictable, fair and fosters good environmental stewardship,” said Undersecretary of the Army Les Brownlee.

The Corps and EPA will publish in the Federal Register a rule to harmonize differences between existing EPA and Army Corps of Engineers regulations by adopting EPA’s effects-based approach to the definition of the term “fill material.”

The final rule is substantially identical to the rule proposed in 2000, but includes additional environmental protections.

For example, under the new rules, garbage or trash will not be permitted in the nation’s waters.

Good results. As a result of improvements already implemented in West Virginia by the agencies and the state in 1998, there have been 30 percent fewer valley fills and a reduction in the overall stream impact of almost 25 percent from these fills.

These improvements are now being applied elsewhere in Appalachia and we anticipate similar reductions in mining related impacts.

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