Feds look to regulate 40,000 miles of Georgia streams

The “Waters of the USA” rule goes into effect in about two months, but the political and legal wrangling among the administration, Congress, the farm lobby and environmental groups is far from over.

“Georgia rivers — where we swim, fish, and go boating — can only be clean if we protect the streams that feed them,” Jennette Gayer, the director of Environment Georgia, said in a prepared statement. “That’s why today’s action is the biggest victory for clean water in a decade.”

Environment Georgia calculated that 57 percent of Georgia’s streams, or 39,986 miles, would now come under the purview of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers.

The EPA and the corps first proposed the rule more than a year ago to protect tributaries to navigable waterways, which are protected under the Clean Water Act. A severe backlash followed from developers and farmers, who claimed, for example, that it would require them to get federal permits when fertilizing near their drainage ditches. The EPA said Wednesday that the final rule applies only to “ditches that are constructed out of streams or function like streams and can carry pollution downstream.”

Georgia Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall said the bureau’s staff is still reviewing the final rule.

“Judging from the agencies’ preliminary descriptions and aggressive advocacy campaign in support of its original proposed rule, we do not anticipate that our members’ concerns have been addressed in any meaningful way,” Duvall said in a statement.

A lawsuit is all but certain. In addition, congressional Republicans have gone on sustained attack. The House passed a bill this month to block the rule, with all of Georgia’s Republicans and two of the state’s four Democrats — U.S. Reps. David Scott of Atlanta and Sanford Bishop of Albany — in favor. Scott serves on the Agriculture Committee and Bishop has a heavily rural district.

The Senate has yet to take up the bill, but the White House has threatened a veto.

“The Obama Administration’s latest regulatory overreach is invasive and threatening to the agricultural industry and its jobs,” Republican U.S. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland of Coweta County said in a statement.

“I’ve spoken to farmers across the state of Georgia and they are adamantly against this regulation,” Westmoreland said. “Telling farmers that the water on their property is now federally regulated and subject to fines tramples on property rights and is exactly the kind of abuse of power our forefathers warned against.”

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