WASHINGTON – Western New York’s two Republican congressmen are pushing back hard against Obama administration proposals to regulate more waterways and to crack down on pollution from wood-burning stoves.
Rep. Chris Collins, R-Clarence, last week won support from 166 of his colleagues, including 15 Democrats, who signed on to a letter protesting the revised clean-water regulations, which would expand the definition of navigable waters. Collins said he was acting on behalf of farmers in his district and elsewhere.
Meanwhile, Rep. Tom Reed, R-Corning, has complained to the Environmental Protection Agency about its proposal toughening the air-pollution requirements for newly manufactured wood-burning stoves.
In the case of the new clean-water rules, the EPA and environmentalists argue that they are needed to limit pollution from farm runoff and other sources that can start in wetlands and streams and end up in lakes and rivers.
The Clean Water Act regulations for streams and wetlands need to be clarified in the wake of two recent Supreme Court decisions that made the existing standards confusing and complex, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said in proposing the changes last month.
“We are clarifying protection for the upstream waters that are absolutely vital to downstream communities,” said McCarthy. “Clean water is essential to every single American, from families who rely on safe places to swim and healthy fish to eat, to farmers who need abundant and reliable sources of water to grow their crops, to hunters and fishermen who depend on healthy waters for recreation and their work, and to businesses that need a steady supply of water for operations.”
But Collins, responding to concerns from farmers in his district, said the new rules extend the definition of “navigable waters” far beyond common sense.
“When I visit with local farmers, the heavy burdens under the Clean Water Act come up each and every time,” Collins said. “When the bureaucrats at the EPA decide to call a divot in the ground that fills with rain a ‘navigable waterway’ under the CWA, we know our federal government has run amok.”
Dean Norton, president of the New York Farm Bureau, agreed, saying: “It defies common sense for the federal government to look to regulate every ditch and rain puddle.”
Environmentalists counter by saying the Republicans are vastly exaggerating the impact of the new rules. The say the rules apply to streams and wetlands, not ditches and puddles.
“Rather than extending the Clean Water Act rules, the proposed changes merely restore them to what they were before the Supreme Court got involved,” said Brian Smith, program and communications director for Citizens Campaign for the Environment, a New York environmental group.
“The rule reflects the volume of scientific evidence the agencies have collected demonstrating conclusively that tributary streams and a wide variety of wetlands are critical to the health of America’s waterways,” Smith said.
“This rule will benefit millions of people across New York with cleaner drinking water, increased recreational opportunities, and greater flood protection.”
The EPA said it has similar goals in toughening pollution standards for new residential wood-burning stoves, which, it said, produce smoke that includes cancer-causing chemicals such as benzene while causing more immediate health issues for those with respiratory problems.
In a number of communities, residential wood smoke increases particle pollution to levels that cause significant health concerns, the agency said while proposing its new rules in February.
But Reed, whose district sprawls across rural areas where wood-burning stoves are common, complained that the proposed new rules would make new wood-burning stoves unaffordable.
“It’s unfair to target families and businesses in rural areas that rely on wood stoves to heat their homes,” Reed said. “For many in our community, this affordable, renewable energy source is a cost-effective alternative to some of the other more costly, volatile options. It’s common sense to continue making this affordable option available.”
Smith said, though, that the new rule is aimed primarily at outdoor wood boilers, which are inefficient and expensive as well as being a dirty way to heat a home.
While conservatives have taken up the fight against the wood-stove rules as a matter of personal freedom, Smith sees the issue differently.
“You have the freedom to heat your home,” he said. “However, you don’t have the freedom to pollute your neighbor’s air with cancer-causing pollutants.”