The US Environmental Protection Agency recently changed regulations authorized by the Clean Water Act. It has removed certain waters from federal pollution protection. The idea (sometimes called “environmental federalism”) is that non-navigable waters, which include millions of acres of wetlands and millions of miles of shallow streams, can and should be regulated and protected by state authorities.
In their cost/benefit analyses, the EPA, and the Army Corps of Engineers, treat the quality of non-navigable waters as a “local public good.” But this premise has come under attack. A recent paper from David Keiser, a professor of resource economics at UMass Amherst, claims that what happens in such “local” waters affects the waterways downstream, and so has consequences for human health — as well as for the risk of flooding — in ways that cross state lines.
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President-elect Biden has said that his administration will review a number of EPA rule rollbacks during the Trump period. It won’t be as easy as a stroke of the pen, though, to reverse this one. The breadth of federal jurisdiction over water quality has been a contested issue for decades, and will continue to be a messy issue for the foreseeable future.