We find it mind-boggling when West Virginia politicians — ones who have grown up here, not just swooped in to fill an elected office — don’t support clean water regulations.
At the end of December, the Environmental Protection Agency released a new rule to redefine “waters of the United States” (referred to as WOTUS), which are protected through the Clean Water Act. This definition had been fairly consistent until 2015, but has been in flux ever since, largely due to court challenges and diametrically opposed presidencies. But the EPA finally settled on one that breaks WOTUS into five categories: traditional navigable waters, impoundments of waters otherwise identified as a WOTUS, tributaries of traditional navigable waters or impoundments, adjacent wetlands and jurisdictional interstate waters.
For a body of water to qualify as WOTUS, it must meet one of two criteria established by a 2006 Supreme Court case: “relatively permanent, standing or continuously flowing bodies of water” or wetlands sharing a “continuous surface connection” with a “relatively permanent” body of water; or, wetlands and non-navigable bodies of water that “significantly affect[s] the chemical, physical, and biological integrity” of an already established WOTUS (known as a “shared nexus”). Previously, these criteria had been used on a case-by-case basis, but now they are codified in the new WOTUS rule.
Early this month, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito led Republican senators in introducing a Congressional Review Act joint resolution of disapproval, challenging that new rule. Capito claims it is a gross overreach — “This administration, to no surprise, has gone way, way far in terms of defining what water is.”
Here’s the thing about water: It’s everywhere. And pretty much every living thing needs at least a little bit of it to survive.
If you remember way back to middle or high school, you might recall a lesson on the water cycle. We won’t repeat that entire science lesson, but in short: Water travels in a continuous cycle through bodies of water, the land and the atmosphere. And when water gets polluted, weird things happen — like acid rain, for example.
The Mountain State’s waterways have seen more than their fair share of pollution. Chemical spills, acid mine drainage, oil spills … Many lakes and streams still bear scars in the forms of little aquatic life or orange stains on bedrock.
And we in West Virginia, perhaps more than some others in the U.S., know how intricately waterways can be connected. Think of all the little creeks coal mines used as dumping grounds that eventually join rivers; or the DuPont chemicals that contaminated drinking water and poisoned surrounding farms and communities. Why wouldn’t we want as many of our waterways protected as possible?
Capito claims the new rule will add to permitting expense and time for farmers, ranchers developers and road builders, among others.
Perhaps Capito has forgotten where she came from, and what water pollution has done to the state she represents. Requiring companies to do things the right way from the outset is worth a little extra time and expense. It’s certainly cheaper — particularly for taxpayers — to prevent dangerous contamination before it starts than to try to repair the damage after it’s been done.