Environment North Carolina
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The Daily Tar Heel
By
Mark Morrison

The Environmental Protection Agency recently passed a rule that diminished regulations on bodies of water in North Carolina, which produce over half of the state's drinking water. 

On Jan. 23, the EPA enacted the Navigable Waters Protection Rule (NWPR), which re-defined what constitutes the waters of the United States. The EPA said this rule is delivering on President Donald Trump's promise to protect the true waters of the U.S. while allowing economic growth across the country by opening up access to waters that were previously preserved.

Prior to the NWPR, the waters of the U.S. were governed by the Clean Water Rule, passed in 2015 under President Barack Obama. The Clean Water Rule applied to nearly 60% of the nation’s water bodies. 

According to the EPA, the NWPR outlines four bodies of jurisdictional waters: territorial seas and traditional navigable waters, long-lasting or irregular outlets to those waters, certain lakes/ponds and wetlands adjacent to jurisdictional waters.

But the agency said there is not yet any data on the composition and overall nature of U.S. waters nationwide, nor tools that can completely and immediately map all waters. This rule is intended to address what they call the overreach of government protections on property that can be used more efficiently. 

“Farmers shouldn't have to worry about the federal government coming after them because of a ditch on their property," Lt. Gov. Dan Forest said in a press release from the EPA. 

Co-owner of Red Tail Grains LLC, Daniel Cowan, said he did not share the same enthusiasm around the regulations. Red Tail Grains is based in Efland in Orange County and sells to local bakeries and breweries, in addition to vending at the Carrboro Farmers Market every Saturday morning.

“Ultimately, I think regulations are generally there to protect the farmer. Especially if we’re talking about common resources,” Cowan said. “If there’s no regulation, then any fisherman can fish as much as they want, but if you have regulations, then it protects all of the fishermen.”

Environment North Carolina Advocate Krista Early said this act will heavily reduce protections on the nation’s water bodies.

“(Trump) decided to roll back the protections on over half of our nation’s wetlands. He’s opening up these bodied waters to pollution,” Early said. “We had really strong standards under the Clean Water Act.”

Early expressed serious concern over North Carolina’s ability to protect its environment due to the Hardison Amendment. 

“It prohibits the state from adopting stronger environmental standards than the EPA’s rules,” Early said. “The fact that we can’t create stronger protections for our unique ecosystem is really, really dangerous.”

She said much of North Carolina’s wetlands, which compose 17 percent of the state, are now unregulated as a result of the Act.  

N.C. Rep. Pricey Harrison (D-Guilford) said she is worried about what the Hardison Amendment means for the people of North Carolina.

“The flood protections that’s provided by these waters are for protection. We’ll have increased flooding. We’ve already had pretty awful flooding,” Harrison said. “The other piece of it is just important water quality protections.”

Over half of the drinking water for North Carolina comes from groundwater, making it the state with the fourth-highest number of private well users in the U.S. Groundwater contamination can result from the presence of hazardous waste sites, mine and drilling sites, untreated wastewater and improper waste disposal.

“A lot of our wetlands actually feed into some of our largest cities main water supplies,” Early said. “It would significantly weaken the protections for the main supply of drinking water for a lot of our communities, and it would also open up our communities to increased flood risk.”

N.C. Rep Deb Butler (D-Brunswick, New Hanover) said the amendment is a barrier to environmental protection in North Carolina.

“Given the rollback we are seeing federally, we need to be in charge of our own destiny without the limitations placed on us by the Hardison Amendment,” Butler said.

Early said North Carolinians may not see changes immediately, but over time the Act would hurt the environment.

“It includes our main rivers like the Cape Fear River, the Neuse River. You’re looking at places like Jordan Lake that are going to be affected by this," she said.