A National Wildlife Federation poll shows hunters and anglers are willing to put aside their political differences in support of greater EPA protections for clean water, including small headwaters and wetlands. Photo credit: Shaun Quinlan/Morguefile
Over half of Tennessee residents take part in outdoor recreation each year, according to the Outdoor Industry Association. Among them are hunters and anglers who consider themselves conservative, yet support an EPA clean water policy that has been described as controversial. According to a survey commissioned by the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), a percentage of more than four of five hunters and anglers favor the plan to apply Clean Water Act protections to some smaller headwaters and wetlands – protections that had been under a legal cloud. Steve Moyer, vice president for government affairs at Trout Unlimited, is a longtime fisherman. “People in Appalachia really do care about the health of their streams and rivers, and they worry about the threats to clean water,” he says. The new policy clarifies which waterways are defined as Waters of the U.S., and are therefore protected under the Clean Water Act. The coal industry has criticized the plan as over-regulation, and Republicans in Congress may attempt to overturn it. But the NWF survey was conducted jointly by two polling firms, one Republican and one Democrat, and found strong support for the rule even among political conservatives. Across the spectrum – age, geography, political orientation – Tennesseans who took part in the survey said clean water is a top priority. Lifelong hunter Ed Perry, outreach coordinator for the National Wildlife Federation, says the poll found three out of four Republican outdoor enthusiasts support the policy. “It was deep and broad-based support, all across the country, with 73 percent of Republican hunters and anglers supporting the rule, 83 percent of Independents and 95 percent of Democrats,” he says. Some national farm and real estate development groups oppose the new EPA policy. Farm groups argue it would mean regulation of every irrigation ditch and stock pond under the Clean Water Act. According to the EPA, that is an inaccurate interpretation of the policy.