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Health, Science, Environment

Missouri joins suit to block new federal waterway definition

A farm pond in southern Illinois
Deb Rednour

A new rule from the Environmental Protection Agency that redefines navigable waterways in the United States is being challenged in federal court by Missouri and several other states.

Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster filed suit on Monday. He says the new definition goes too far because it would classify ponds, streams that only briefly flow during rainstorms and channels that are usually dry as waterways.

"The EPA and the Army Corps (of Engineers) have exceeded their legal authority in defining what constitutes U.S. waterways," Koster said. "If this change becomes law, thousands of acres of privately owned land in Missouri will suddenly be subject to federal water regulation."

Koster added that farmers and ranchers will be "particularly harmed," and that the new definition would also apply to land within 100-year floodplains, "even if they are dry 99 out of 100 years."

Alicia Lloyd, clean water policy coordinator for the Missouri Coalition for the Environment, disagrees.

"It preserves all exemptions for agriculture that have always been included in the Clean Water Act," Lloyd said.  "It's establishing clear criteria for what, going forward, the EPA will consider (to be) waters of the United States."

The new rule was officially published on Monday, meaning it will automatically take effect within 60 days unless the federal judge hearing the lawsuit issues an order blocking it. The suit was filed in the U.S. district court in Bismarck, N.D.

"In 2001 and 2006, there were (U.S.) Supreme Court cases that left the definition (of a navigable waterway) unclear," Lloyd said. "This just gives very specific criteria for what would constitute a tributary."

She also contends that the EPA and the Corps of Engineers properly vetted the new rule: "They incorporated feedback from over 400 public meetings (and collected) over a million public comments."

Missouri Farm Bureau President Blake Hurst, however, accuses the EPA of not listening to comments from farmers and ranchers, saying that the new rule "is actually broader in certain respects than the (original) proposal, and is equally as confusing."

The new full definition of the "Waters of the United States" can be viewed here.

Follow Marshall Griffin on Twitter:  @MarshallGReport

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