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EPA’s ‘secret maps:’ Cramer claims EPA is keeping secret maps

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WASHINGTON -- North Dakota's lone member of the House of Representatives is accusing a government agency of keeping secret maps of wetlands and waters with no intention of releasing them to the public.

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Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., released maps Wednesday that showed an inventory of waterways in North Dakota and the Midwest. Cramer claims the maps, compiled by the Environmental Protection Agency, could be used to determine what waters would fall under the proposed Waters of the U.S. rule change to the Clean Water Act.

"It seems always to be their intention, whether it's the IRS (Internal Revenue Service), EPA or NSA (National Security Agency)," Cramer said in an interview with The Press. "As an administration, they have been the most secretive administration, certainly in my lifetime, if not the history of the country. They lack transparency, so it is hard to not be suspicious of it."

The rule change would allow the EPA to regulate any water source that could have an effect on navigable bodies of water -- such as streams, lakes, reservoirs or standing water. EPA officials told The Press the rule change is meant to clarify U.S. Supreme Court rulings, but Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., said it is meant to grab power.

“It’s clearly an overreach of their authority,” Hoeven said. “These maps are just another indication of exactly what I just said, that they want to regulate all water. … That is clearly beyond their jurisdiction.”

The EPA said in a statement the maps were originally created in 2005 to understand the potential impact of Supreme Court decisions on water resources. The maps were revised last year with updated data from the U.S. Geological Survey.

“Simply put, these maps do not show the scope of waters historically covered under the Clean Water Act or proposed to be covered under (the) EPA’s proposed rule,” EPA spokesman Tom Reynolds wrote.

“(The) EPA has never and is not now relying on maps to determine jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act,” he added. “While these maps are useful tools for water resource managers, they cannot be used to determine Clean Water jurisdiction — now or ever.”

The maps were recently released to the committee, but only after the committee requested the maps several times, Cramer said.

Reynolds did not address whether it was the intent of the EPA to keep the maps secret.

Cramer and Hoeven said they have both heard an outcry of public opposition to the rule, especially in North Dakota. Hoeven said the law is a violation of private landowner rights.

Reynolds disagreed, adding the purpose of the Clean Water Act is to protect the nation’s water from pollution.

“This law has nothing to do with land use or private property rights, and our proposal does not do anything to change that,” Reynolds wrote in the statement. “The idea that (the) EPA can use the Clean Water Act to execute a land grab or intrude on private property rights is simply false.”

Cramer has also alleged the EPA of intercepting and screening questions from the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, which Cramer sits on, before the agency’s independent Science Advisory Board could review them.

“The fact that they would intercept questions, for example, from a Congressional committee of jurisdiction intended for their advisory board, that right there tells you there is something amiss, because, frankly, the law doesn’t allow that,” Cramer said.

During a hearing in July, Cramer asked EPA Deputy Administrator Robert Perciasepe if U.S. law allows the agency to intercept his committee’s questions to the independent advisory board and regulate its answers.

“What I believe is the committee’s processes and the SAB’s (Science Advisory Board’s) processes need to both be protected, and in a way that their is a structured approach how we interact,” Perciasepe said during the hearing, adding the EPA wants to do that.

“I am comfortable in just saying, ‘Let’s let that work out.’ We are working hard to do that and I have high confidence we will.”

Cramer said Perciasepe dodged his question.

“I can appreciate what you (Perciasepe) want and, as you said to the chairman, how you feel; that’s all fun stuff for a social scientist,” Cramer said during the hearing. “We are talking about hard science and the law.”

He added: “I think the correspondence was to the Science Advisory Board, and that’s the point. You have it and not the Science Advisory Board.”

Hoeven was not surprised the maps were prepared in secret, as Cramer claims, adding it is not how the agency should handle the matter.

“I think they are wrong, in terms of the proposed rules,” Hoeven said. “It is inappropriate that they were preparing these maps and not providing them to the public and being transparent about it.”

Cramer said the House is working to block the EPA’s proposal. In the Senate, Hoeven has attempted to block the rule by deauthorizing the change or defunding the EPA’s authority to administer or implement Waters of the U.S.

Both said they plan to follow the issue closely.

The rule change can be viewed at www.regulations.gov/#!documentDetail;D=EPA-HQ-OW-2011-0880-0001. The comment period has been extended to Oct. 20.

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April Baumgarten joined the Grand Forks Herald May 19, 2015, as the news editor. She works with a team of talented journalists and editors, who strive to give the Grand Forks area the quality news readers deserve to know. Baumgarten grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, where her family continues to raise registered Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at Jamestown (N.D.) College, now known as University of Jamestown. During her time at the college,  she worked as a reporter and editor-in-chief for the university's newspaper, The Collegian. Baumgarten previously worked for The Dickinson Press as the Dickinson city government and energy reporter in 2011 before becoming the editor of the Hazen Star and Center Republican. She then returned to The Press as a news editor, where she helped lead an award-winning newsroom in recording the historical oil boom.   
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