CORRALES, N.M. (AP) — Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy said Monday she's not backing down on her agency's efforts to implement a new rule that would assert regulatory authority over many of the nation's streams and wetlands despite criticisms that it amounts to a federal water grab.
The U.S. House approved a bill last week that would block the agency from moving forward with the rule, which aims to clarify the streams and waterways that could be protected from development under the Clean Water Act.
McCarthy denied the rule would expand the jurisdiction of the act, but she said it's time — given drought pressures in the West and the effects of climate change — to clarify some of the act's provisions to make them more understandable and to establish regulatory certainty when it comes to drinking water supplies.
"We've seen some things happen with water that made us realize we need to do better and work together," she said. "But one of the most important things is, as you take a statute that's over 40 years old and say what it means, that you look at the science and the law and you stay within your boundaries."
House Republican leaders have said the rule would extend the EPA's power to include streams, ponds, ditches and even stormwater runoff, with economic consequences for everyone from farmers to small businesses.
McCarthy said her agency will continue talking to states and communities about the need for the rule and what the Obama administration hopes to achieve.
McCarthy made her comments Monday during a visit to New Mexico, where she helped to commemorate the start of a $2 million flood-control project aimed at keeping sediment out the Rio Grande and alleviating flooding concerns for the village of Corrales.
Once the catchment basins and other features are complete, officials say the area along the arroyo where storm runoff currently rushes through will be more like a park, where residents can hike or bike. Boulders and other natural features will be used to slow down the water and catch the sediment before it's funneled into Corrales and the Rio Grande. Reclaimed water from the nearby city of Rio Rancho will be used to irrigate native vegetation throughout the area.
Funding for the project comes from a federal loan and a grant. Officials said it marks the first time in New Mexico that clean water funds have been used for such a project.