U.S. Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, spoke out at a congressional hearing Oct. 18 on issues facing the state under the Clean Water Act.
The hearing before the U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, which Young chairs, examined the successes and challenges of the law in the 35 years since it was enacted, touching on court battles over two Alaska mines and a park in Fairbanks.
Alaska contains 63 percent of the total wetland acreage in the United States (excluding Hawaii), according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Thus, Alaska will continue to feel a “monumental impact” from the Clean Water Act on its economy, transportation, and landscape, Young told the full committee
“In June the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued new guidance on dredge and fill permits, known as Section 404 in the Clean Water Act, as a result of the recent Rapanos Supreme Court case,” he said. “The guidance says that the Corps analysis would have to either find a permanent surface hydrologic connection or a ‘significant nexus’ between the wetland in question and the water quality of the nearest traditional navigable water.”
Regulators may be ignoring high court rulingYet the section 404 dredge and fill permits issued by the Corps to Rock Creek Mine in Nome and the Kensington Gold Mine near Juneau are being challenged in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, he observed.
The Fairbanks North Star Borough is also suing the Corps over whether property that the Borough would like to turn into a park is a wetland under the Clean Water Act. The Corps claims the property is a wetland because of a hydrologic connection in the groundwater even though there is no surface water connection, Young said.
“I’m interested to know if there are other cases where the Rapanos guidance is not being complied with by the Corps,” he said.
Proposal would do more harmAn effort now under way to expand the original intent of Congress from ‘navigable waters’ to ‘waters of the United States in the Clean Water Act will do more damage and cause more confusion,” the congressman also predicted.
“I fear that this proposed legislation may increase the cost and time to issue dredge and fill permits and negate the ability of communities like Fairbanks to challenge the interpretation of what federal agencies constitute as a wetland,” he added
Young also submitted questions in writing to the Army Corps and to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency about the borough’s concerns and the mines’ permits.