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April 28, 2014

Waterways proposal protested

ALTOONA — Tommy Nagle changed from his farm clothes into a suit Monday and testified in front of a congressional hearing about what he thinks is a bad idea to let the federal government change the definition of waterways in the United States.

Nagle was born in 1979, nearly a decade after adoption of the federal Clean Water Act of 1972. As president of the Cambria County Farm Bureau, he was one of six people to testify at a hearing held in Blair County by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, chaired by U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Hollidaysburg.

The hearing’s goal was to collect comment from those most likely to be impacted if the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers are successful in their effort to change the scope of federal jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act.

The EPA and  Corps cited Supreme Court cases on the act’s jurisdiction illustrating the need to redefine the definition of waterways under the act.

Under existing legislation, the act and EPA have control over “navigable waters,” a term the federal government is attempting to change to “waters of the United States.”

Under the proposed rule change, the definition of those waters will be expanded to include all tributaries of waters including those currently covered by the agency along with – what concerns Nagle – other waters, including wetlands on a case-specific basis.

If he gets a tractor stuck, creates a rut, and rain hits, resulting in a puddle, and someone decides it has a subterranean connection to a waterway covered in the expanded definition, Nagle said, he would be in trouble.

The worst part, he told members of the committee, is that he would face a $37,500 fine for every day he has the water problem.

Additionally, proposed setbacks from waterways could impact significantly on his acreage available for tilling.

Should the proposed rule changes be implemented, the new definitions for waterways will have a significant impact on the unconventional natural gas industry, David Spigelmyer, president of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, told the congressmen.

It likely will mean longer delays in permitting for well development as well as construction of gathering and transmission  lines, Spigelmyer said.

“The delays and related cost increases created by this duplicative review process threaten to jeopardize the enormous economic boom to Pennsylvania associated with the development of the Marcellus shale in a number of ways,” Spigelmyer testified.

His sentiments were echoed by Jacqueline Fidler of Consol Energy and Tonya Winkler of Rice Energy LP.

In comparison to Ohio, where Rice has much of its interest in the Utica Shale play, Pennsylvania is much slower causing delays that hamper economic growth, Winkler said.

“No other district of the Army Corps where Rice Energy operates approaches the permitting function for gathering lines and water transfer lines in the manner now in place in Pennsylvania,” she said.

The concern is not restricted to well drillers and farmers, according to Warren Peter of Warren Peter Construction of Indiana County.

As with the farmer, the term “other waters” is a concern for Peter, who views the new regulations as presenting a tremendous liability for any home building, a cost that will be passed onto the family purchasing the home.

Also testifying was Kenneth Murin, environmental program manager for wetlands and encroachments for the state Department of Environmental Protection.

DEP hopes the federal agencies will reach out to the state for comments on the proposed rule change, Murin said.

Kathy Mellott covers environmental issues for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow her on Twitter at kathymellotttd.

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