GOP chairman: EPA maps out power grab

The Republican chairman of the House Science Committee pounced Wednesday on a series of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) maps he says reveal a plot to “control a huge amount of private property across the country.”

The EPA, however, says the maps released by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) show nothing more than the location of U.S. water resources and are in no way connected to the agency’s plan to clarify what bodies of water come under its regulatory authority.

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Smith, who obtained the maps from the EPA, notes that they were created in 2013, shortly after the agency proposed its contentious Waters of the United States rule. Republicans have seized on the regulations as an unwarranted expansion of the EPA’s jurisdiction over smaller bodies of water.

Smith contends the maps, which show the locations of streams, marshes and reservoirs, along with larger rivers and lakes, signal the breadth of the agency’s plans to assert authority under the Clean Water Act (CWA).

“These maps show the EPA’s plan: to control a huge amount of private property across the country,” he said in a statement. “While the Agency marches forward with a rule that could fundamentally re-define Americans’ private property rights, the EPA kept these maps hidden.”

In a letter to Smith, a top EPA official stressed that the maps had nothing to do with the water rule. They were first prepared for the agency in 2005 and then updated with additional information last year, acting assistant EPA Administrator Nancy Stoner wrote to Smith.

“I wish to be clear that EPA is not aware of maps prepared by any agency, including the EPA, of waters that are currently jurisdictional under the CWA or that would be jurisdictional under the proposed rule,” Stoner wrote.

On Wednesday, spokeswoman Liz Purchia repeated that assertion, saying the maps were not made for any regulatory purpose.

"They were first created during the Bush Administration to identify waters that would be vulnerable as a result of a 2001 Supreme Court case and pending litigation," Purchia explained.

Smith brushed off the contentions as the agency downplaying the connection between the EPA’s regulatory agenda and the maps.

“Given the astonishing picture they paint, I understand the EPA’s desire to minimize the importance of these maps,” he said.

Smith on Wednesday sent a new letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthyRegina (Gina) McCarthyOvernight Energy: Trump budget slashes EPA funding | International hunting council disbands amid lawsuit | Bill targets single-use plastics Trump budget slashes EPA funding, environmental programs Overnight Energy: Trump credits economic progress to environmental rollbacks | Vote to subpoena Interior delayed by prayer breakfast | Dems hit agency for delaying energy efficiency funds MORE asking for additional information about the intention behind the maps creation.

Specifically, he is requesting documents and communications between the agency and the firm contracted for the 2013 update, that the maps be entered into the formal WOTUS rulemaking docket and that a comment period in support of the rule to be kept open for 60 days after that so the public has a chance to weigh in on the maps.

This story was updated with additional information at 3:34 p.m.