Environmental Regulation

Draft Water Rule Harmful to Co-ops

By Cathy Cash | ECT Staff Writer Published: March 25th, 2014

In a move that would hurt electric cooperatives’ operations and their bottom lines, a draft proposed rule could subject nearly all bodies of water to Clean Water Act requirements, according to NRECA.

A draft proposed rule could subject all ditches, flood plains, wetlands and even seasonal streams to Clean Water Act requirements. (Photo By: Getty Images)

A draft proposed rule could subject all ditches, flood plains, wetlands and even seasonal streams to Clean Water Act requirements. (Photo By: Getty Images)

NRECA is advocating that the Obama administration turn back the proposal.

“Such an expansion of Clean Water Act rules would have significant impacts on co-ops by increasing the number and costs of permits needed for distribution and transportation corridor construction and maintenance and substations,” said Kirk Johnson, NRECA senior vice president, government relations.

Expanding the law to cover all ditches, flood plains, wetlands, riparian areas and seasonal streams could require discharge permits for water flowing into, rather than out of, some treatment or cooling water ponds, he said. Further, it would subject a vast number of areas to oil spill contingency planning.

The draft proposal defining “Waters of the U.S.” was developed by the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Corp of Engineers and is under review at the White House Office of Management and Budget. OMB must approve a proposal before it can be published in the Federal Register and open to a public comment period. EPA has indicated that the proposal will be out soon.

But a draft leaked to BNA last fall contains major revisions broadening how water bodies are defined and the scope of the Clean Water Act. The changes would essentially extend federal jurisdiction over nearly every body of water—including seasonal streams and isolated wetlands— and extend federal control over local land-use decisions.

In an effort to stop such a rule from advancing, NRECA has joined the Water Advocacy Coalition, which includes agriculture, construction, mining and manufacturing interests, in addition to petroleum, gas and electric utilities. NRECA wants the White House and lawmakers to consider the implications of expanding the Clean Water Act for the energy sector and consumers.

“We are working with energy and utility trade associations to reach out to the administration, Congress and the states to familiarize them with the potential impacts on the energy sector,” Johnson said.

NRECA has a resolution “to take all appropriate actions to protect the interests of electric cooperatives and their members to ensure that any Clean Water Act requirements allow utilities as much flexibility as possible to meet environmental goals to enhance water quality through scientifically sound, cost-effective methods.”

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