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Issues: Waters of the US (WOTUS)

Issue: NRECA has significant concerns with a new rule from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) expanding federal jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act (CWA) to include stormwater management systems, isolated ponds, ditches and other areas that only contain water after a rain.

Not-for-profit electric cooperatives own and maintain about 40 percent of the nation's electric distribution lines, covering nearly three quarters of the nation's landmass. Since more "waters" -- both wet and occasionally wet -- are now subject to CWA regulation, co-ops are expecting to spend more time and money on permits both for maintaining current infrastructure and for new construction. More permits translates into more uncertainty, more time, more cost.

The Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy found the new rule will have a significant economic impact on a substantial number of small businesses and that the agencies failed in their (note -- two agencies, EPA and Corps) obligations to convene a small business advocacy review (SBAR) panel and evaluate the specific potential economic impacts on small businesses. We agree. All of NRECA's distribution cooperative members and all but three generation and transmission cooperatives, meet the Small Business Administration definition of a small business.

Status: The WOTUS rule was signed on May 27, 2015. The rule will be effective 60-days after it's published in the Federal Register -- probably sometime in June.

Legislative update: The House of Representatives voted 261 to 155 to approve H.R. 1732, the Regulatory Integrity Protection Act on May 12, 2015. The bill requires the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Corps of Engineers to withdraw the proposed Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule and re-propose a new rule after consulting with stakeholders. The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee reported out and is poised to consider S. 1140, the Federal Water Quality Protection Act, and the full Senate is poised to consider the bill later this summer. The Senate bill both requires withdrawal and consultation prior to any re-proposal, but also provides guidance as to what should and should not be included in a re-proposal.

NRECA Position: Electric cooperative members value, and deserve, a healthy environment. Affordable and reliable electricity is also an interest of critical importance to our members and the nation. As electric cooperatives work to harmonize these interests on behalf of our members, maintaining and improving the electric infrastructure on which our member owners rely, we cannot afford the delays and additional red tape this proposed rule would create. The increased time, uncertainty, and costs from additional permitting by the new rule will result in -- if any -- enhanced protection for the nation's waters. The proposed rule is not cost-effective and will impose significant economic impacts on a substantial number of small entities, including electric cooperatives.

We call on EPA and the Corps to withdraw the rule and engage in a meaningful dialogue with all stakeholders, including electric cooperatives and others that provide essential services to rural communities. EPA and the Corps should also comply with SBREFA and engage with small businesses that will be significantly impacted by the WOTUS rule.

We urge the U.S. Senate to take up and pass S. 1140, the Federal Water Quality Protection Act.

Fast Fact: Waters of the US (WOTUS)