The EPA’s expansion of the Waters of the United States Proposal and its impact on the Economies of Louisville and Kentucky

As outlined in Greater Louisville Inc.’s 2015 Federal Policy Priorities, the EPA’s proposed expansion of the definition of Waters of the U.S. will impact the cost of doing business in the Louisville region. While GLI recognizes the importance of protecting the nation’s waterways and supports efforts to ensure clean drinking water, the expanded definition has far-reaching implications that are hazardous to the homebuilding, retail, farming, and energy sectors.

The redefinition also claims the majority of non-navigable (stock ponds, irrigation ponds/ditches and small streams) waterways, including “ephemeral waters,” which would essentially include water runoff after a rain shower.

On August 28th, U.S. District Judge Ralph Erickson issued a temporary injunction blocking the implementation of the EPA’s new definition in 13 states:  Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming.  Judge Erickson called the EPA’s proposal “exceptionally expansive,” continuing, he described the proposal as “inexplicable, arbitrary and devoid of a reasoned process.”

The EPA now controls water rights on millions of acres of private land that contain small bodies of water from hand dug irrigation ditches to small streams, wetlands and ephemeral bodies of water. Had it not been for the temporary injunction in the 13 states that brought the lawsuit, the Federal government would have required business owners (particularly land developers and farmers) to obtain a permit and pay associated fees.

The WOTUS redefinition now requires thousands of energy companies, land developers, businesses, farmers, and ranchers to apply for and obtain land use permits. The Congressional Research Service estimates that the permit application process would lead to an increased cost of $1 million for federal and state governments to administer and process permits. There is also an estimated indirect cost of $158-$465 million to applicants annually. This proposal would be harmful to industries vital to Kentucky’s economic prosperity. The land usage permit fees will have negative impacts to our energy sector in particular, with new regulations and restrictions for energy storage and production on waterways. 

The EPA’s redefinition grants them jurisdiction to all navigable waters, which are considered public land in Kentucky, while also taking jurisdiction of all waters within 4,000 feet of a navigable waterway. Judge Erickson’s temporary injunction is commendable; however, a permanent and nationwide ruling against the redefinition of the Waters of the United States is necessary for the greater Louisville area and for Kentucky’s economic wellbeing.

>>>For more information on our GLI’s advocacy efforts, please contact Sarah Davasher-Wisdom at 502.625.0073 or sdavasher@greaterlouisville.com.

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