A top House Republican is charging that the Environmental Protection Agency secretly drafted highly detailed maps of U.S. waterways to set the stage for a controversial plan to expand regulatory power over streams and wetlands, a claim the EPA strongly denies.
Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, chairman of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, released those maps on Wednesday, while firing off a letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy voicing concerns over why they were created in the first place.
“These maps show the EPA’s plan: to control a huge amount of private property across the country. Given the astonishing picture they paint, I understand the EPA’s desire to minimize the importance of these maps,” he wrote, in the letter obtained by FoxNews.com.
But an EPA spokeswoman said the maps, from the U.S. Geological Survey and Fish and Wildlife Service, do not depict which waters are subject to EPA control.
“Let us be very clear — these maps have nothing to do with EPA’s proposed rule or any other regulatory purpose,” Liz Purchia said, noting they were initially created years ago and subsequently updated.
At issue is a proposal that Smith and fellow Republicans, as well as farmers and other groups, say could endanger private property rights by giving the EPA a say over temporary waterways like seasonal streams, under the Clean Water Act. That the agency had highly detailed maps drawn up has raised suspicion about their purpose.
“While the Agency marches forward with a rule that could fundamentally re-define Americans’ private property rights, the EPA kept these maps hidden,” Smith wrote in his letter. “Serious questions remain regarding the EPA’s underlying motivations for creating such highly detailed maps.”
He added: “The EPA’s job is to regulate. The maps must have been created with this purpose in mind.”
The high-resolution maps of each state depict a dense and veiny web of intertwining waterways. They’re color-coded to distinguish everything from canals and ditches to reservoirs to marshes to various types of streams. The maps show permanent streams, but also those that contain water for only part of the year.
The EPA denied the maps were drawn to chart areas subject to the Clean Water Act. The agency said they were only drawn to identify the “extent and location” of waterways and other details.