The Obama administration, in conjunction with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Army Corps of Engineers, released a national clean water framework.  It includes draft federal guidance to clarify which waters are protected by the Clean Water Act.

"The Obama administration's decision to move forward with new guidance on the Clean Water Act will undeniably expand the regulatory scope and federal jurisdiction over waterways," House Committee on Agriculture Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., said in a statement.  "This guidance builds a foundation for the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers to regulate essentially any body of water, such as a farm pond or even a ditch.  The vitality and health of our nation's waterways are important to all of us.  Where we disagree is over how to achieve that goal."

Earlier this month, a bipartisan group of 170 U.S. representatives wrote EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and Assistant Secretary of the Army's Civil Works agency Jo-Ellen Darcy to voice strong concern about the agencies' efforts to expand the regulatory scope of the Clean Water Act term "waters of the United States."  Lawmakers said the agencies are using a guidance document, rather than a legislative change or regulatory rulemaking process, to expand the scope of the law.

"I do think there will be some expansion [of regulatory jurisdiction] to waters that currently people might view as isolated," Jackson told reporters in a conference call.  Jackson added that it is "not clear" how many more wetlands or waterways would now be covered, according to the trade publication Inside EPA.

The draft guidance will not become effective until after the 60 day comment period following publication in the Federal Register, which is expected next week.