A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

EPA’s proposed changes to Clean Water Act could stymie Kentucky’s waste and pollution fights

By Eric Tegethoff
Public News Service

Some Kentuckians are concerned that proposed changes to the Clean Water Act could set back the fight against waste and pollution in their own backyards.

The Environmental Protection Agency has announced a replacement for the Waters of the United States rule, lifting federal protections from water sources that are seasonal and wetlands that are not connected by a stream to a larger body of water.

Kentuckians fighting pollution flowing into the Green River are concerned that weakened Clean Water Act protections could hurt their case. (PatrickRohe/Flickr via PNS)

Don Peters, a retiree in western Kentucky, said he and his neighbors have been battling a hog farm that has been polluting a stream feeding into the Green River.

“We’re concerned that whatever case we have to make would be diluted by the changing of the regulations,” Peters explained.

He said the owner has been cited for multiple water violations but neighbors have been unsuccessful in getting him to clean up his operation.

Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler called the original Obama-era rule “government overreach,” and said the new rule gives power back to states, reducing red tape for farmers and other landowners.

Attorney Hank Graddy said according to EPA numbers, more than 3.2 million Kentuckians receive their drinking water from public systems that rely on intermittent or ephemeral streams. He said weakening the Waters of the United States rule could put these Kentuckians in danger.

“We’re already having great risks to our drinking water from poor systems, in eastern Kentucky and across the state,” Graddy said.

He noted Kentucky is a karst state, meaning all the ground water in the state is connected to surface water.

“We thought that would entitle Kentucky to even stronger protection,” Grady said. “So, we are dismayed that this administration seems intent to try to repeal that rule and substitute a much more narrow definition of the scope of the Clean Water Act.”

The public can comment on the proposed changes at Regulations.gov. If the rule is finalized, multiple conservation groups already have vowed to take the fight to the courts.

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