Texas AG Abbott threatens to sue EPA over rule change

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott is poised for another clash with federal environmental regulators, this time over proposed water protections.

The Austin American-Statesman reports that Abbott wants the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to scrap a proposal to expand the definition of federal waterways. The Republican gubernatorial candidate submitted a written public comment to the federal agency Monday. He threatened to sue if the proposal isn't withdrawn.

The EPA proposed expanding the definition of federal waters to include seasonal and rain-dependent waterways. The agency said the move would stiffen penalties for polluting those waterways that supply drinking water to more than 11 million Texans.

"It's important to protect the whole network of streams that flow into rivers and oceans," said Ellen Gilinsky, a senior adviser for water at the federal agency.

This dispute comes on the heels of a long-running battle between the EPA and Texas over air pollution issues. Abbott said the plan would harm the state's economy.

The proposal "is without adequate scientific and economic justification and, if finalized, would erode private property rights and have devastating effects on the landowners of Texas," Abbott wrote.

Texas Commission on Environmental Quality spokesman Terry Clawson said the regulatory agency is "concerned that EPA's proposed rule expands its jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act without Congressional approval."

David Foster, who heads the Texas office of the advocacy group Clean Water Action, said the TCEQ has shown little appetite for regulating the waterways.

"We need a federal backstop," Foster said. "I shudder to think how the political leadership in this state would regulate these waterways."