Availability of Scientific Data on Waterways Misrepresented by EPA Official
On December 11, 2018, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposed a new rule that would revise the definition of “waters of the United States” for the purposes of the Clean Water Act. During a press call previewing the rule on December 10, the Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Water, Dave Ross, told reporters that the agency does not have data showing the number of streams that would be excluded from the new definition. He said:
“If you see percentages of water features that are claimed to be in, or reductions, there really isn’t the data to support those statistics. No one has that data.”
However, internal EPA documents, obtained by E&E News, show that the data does exist. E&E News obtained a 2017 presentation, prepared by staff at EPA and Army Corps of Engineers, which indicates that at least 18 percent of streams and 51 percent of wetlands nationwide would not be covered by the new definition.
In January 2020, the nonprofit Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility filed a complaint with EPA's Office of Inspector General regarding the misrepresentation of available data on U.S. waterways. The complaint was co-signed by 44 current and former federal scientists and lawyers, many from the EPA. It indicates that EPA employees were “explicitly cautioned” against submission of any formal comments on the new “waters of the United States” rule and were instructed to respond to public comment only from a “policy or legal stance, not a scientific one.”