Environmental Regulation

EPA Water Rule ‘Drowning’ Co-ops

By Cathy Cash | ECT Staff Writer Published: June 30th, 2014

When a congressional committee wanted to know the real-life impacts of a federal proposal to regulate U.S. waters, Roger Clark of Associated Electric Cooperative was clear: “We’re drowning under reams and reams of federal regulation.”

Roger Clark of Associated Electric Cooperative (left) and Rep. Jason Smith discuss concerns about EPA water proposal. (Photo By: Office of Rep. Jason Smith)

Roger Clark of Associated Electric Cooperative (left) and Rep. Jason Smith discuss concerns about EPA water proposal. (Photo By: Office of Rep. Jason Smith)

At a June 24 hearing on Capitol Hill, Clark described how the “waters of the United States” rule proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, would delay and add costs to energy projects from new natural gas pipelines to renewable generation.

“Electric cooperatives just aren’t going to be able to do what we do best and that is to provide affordable, reliable electricity. We’re dying here. We’re drowning under reams and reams of federal regulation,” Clark told the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water and Power. “This is coming at the expense of rural America.”

Clark is director of engineering and operations for the G&T based in Springfield, Mo., which won the Department of Energy’s Wind Cooperative of the Year award in 2007 and has been recognized for its conservation activities. “We’re committed to the environment because we’re owned by the people who own the land,” he said.

The proposal’s potential to reign over ditches and tributaries, however, stands to stump the very projects that support the Obama administration’s climate change policies for lower-emission energy, such as natural gas and wind power, he said.

“These activities become even more critical for cooperatives if we are to meet EPA’s proposed requirements to replace coal generation with renewable energy sources and additional combined cycle natural gas generation,” Clark said.

The proposal also carries consequences for electric transmission. Associated and its six G&T owners maintain almost 10,000 miles of lines and plan to invest about $115 million on primary transmission facilities in the next 10 years.

Not knowing whether the federal regulators will exempt the ditches alongside transmission rights of way will “make it impossible to do our jobs,” he said.

Rep. Jason Smith, R-Mo., along with other committee members, has called for the administration to withdraw the proposed rule.

“Applying the federal permitting processes to every pond, gully, dry creek bed, irrigation ditch, puddle, or other similar collection of water would be a huge increase in our regulatory burden,” Smith said.

“The government regulators claim that there are exemptions in the rules for these ditches, and other man-made collections of water, but these exemptions are not well-defined, leaving many to believe that they may not be exemptions at all.”

The rule proposed April 21 would redefine federal authority under the Clean Water Act. Public comment will be accepted through Oct. 20. A final rule is due April 2015.

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