November 6, 2013
Office of Environmental Information Docket
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20460
Via email to: Docket_OEI@epa.gov
Re: Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-2013-0582
Dear Members of the Science Advisory Board:
The Resource Development Council for Alaska, Inc. (RDC) is writing to provide comments on the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Connectivity of Streams and Wetlands to Downstream Waters: A Review and Synthesis of the Scientific Evidence (September 2013) Draft Study publication (Draft Study).
RDC is an Alaskan business association comprised of individuals and companies from Alaska’s oil and gas, mining, forest products, tourism and fisheries industries. RDC’s membership includes Alaska Native Corporations, local communities, organized labor, and industry support firms. RDC’s purpose is to encourage a strong, diversified private sector in Alaska and expand the state’s economic base through the responsible development of our natural resources.
In its letter dated July 29, 2011, RDC requested the EPA and the Corps of Engineers (Corps) to halt development of the proposed guidance that will expand their jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act (CWA) to virtually all waters of the United States (akrdc.org/alerts/2011/epacwajurisdiction.html). As the EPA has published a Draft Study on connectivity, RDC is now writing to urge the EPA and Corps to provide public notice and release of the Proposed Rule before resubmitting it to the White House’s Office of Management and Budget.
RDC is concerned the case studies and literature in the Draft Study are for temperate regions and may not be reflective of connections in an arctic environment. Given that Alaska has unique conditions and the fact that approximately 174 million acres of wetlands (65 percent of the nation’s total wetlands) are located predominantly in sub-- arctic and arctic Alaska, any revised or new guidance provided by the Corps should include regional guidance with examples or case studies. Development of regional guidance should include broad participation in the process from the regulated and regulatory communities. Revised agency forms should be made available, and should be for documenting the assertion or delineation of CWA jurisdiction, specific to Alaska. Development of both national and regional forms should be a public process, open to review and comment.
In addition to concerns described in this letter, RDC urges the EPA to address concerns made by Dr. Edmond Packee in a letter submitted by Travis/Peterson Environmental Consulting, Inc. (October 16, 2013).
The report uses inconsistent definitions of a wetland and should instead consistently use the correct regulatory definition. As the guidance will have an impact on industries across the nation and the state, it is vital definitions and descriptions are consistent and accurate.
Dr. Packee’s concerns about the study methodology suggest the methodology used was the sole analysis, and that alternative hypothesis were not developed or tested. As noted above, Alaska is very unique, and merits further studies beyond a “landscape basis.”
The definition of water connectivity to a downstream system of “a visible channel” also warrants demonstration of connectivity on a case by case basis. RDC urges the EPA to adhere to use of the definition of a visible channel. As Dr. Packee described it, it is a “reasonable, measurable, and verifiable standard for connectivity,” to which RDC concurs. A stated purpose of the study is to provide clarification of Clean Water Act jurisdiction, reasonable, measurable and verifiable, therefore demonstrations of connectivity are essential.
In conclusion, jurisdiction should not be expanded beyond congressional intent, but limited to navigable waters as intended by Congress under the CWA. Changes in the regulatory scheme of the CWA should be done consistent with the law or legislative action by Congress, not vague definitions and broad interpretations that empower EPA and Corps officials with informal and ambiguous controls over private, state, and federal lands. Because the connectivity study will be used to guide jurisdictional determinations of “waters of the United States” with far reaching regulatory and land use implications, it is imperative that the study use the best-- available science, specifically, science based on arctic and subarctic environments applicable to Alaska.
RDC requests the public be allowed to review the proposed guidance, and that comment deadlines associated with the draft study be extended.
Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the draft guidance.
Resource Development Council for Alaska, Inc.