MIAMI (AP) -- A shift in the political conversation on climate change will come from engaging local communities seeking solutions to the problems they're already experiencing, the Environmental Protection Agency's regional administrator for the Southeast said Wednesday.<br />
While some politicians remain skeptical or even silent on the issue, local communities understand the effects because they see them already in increased energy costs, crop production hit by rising temperatures, extreme weather events, rising sea levels and smaller fish catches, Heather McTeer Toney said before touring a South Florida plant that processes waste into energy.<br />
"The more people that we have engaged, whether or not it be high school seniors, whether or not it be PTA moms, whether or not it's the local track club, farmworkers, the people in the church - getting them to understand how important this is and embracing it then helps build the groundswell that moves it up the political ladder," Toney said.<br />
"What we've found is when we're out in the field, people know and they're ready to do something, and we're here to support them," Toney said.<br />
Toney, the former mayor of Greenville, Mississippi, was appointed in January to oversee the eight states and six tribes that make up the EPA's most populated region. Among her priorities for her swing through South Florida was seeking feedback on a proposed rule that seeks to clarify regulatory authority over the nation's streams and wetlands under the Clean Water Act.<br />
The rule proposed by the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers wouldn't add any new waters, but it clarifies that seasonal and rain-dependent streams and wetlands near rivers and streams would be protected. Others waters would be considered on a case-by-case basis to determine whether they affect the quality of downstream waters. The proposed rule also preserves exemptions already granted for agriculture.<br />
Some Republicans in Congress have called the rule the government's attempt at a water grab. Environmental groups have praised it for restoring protections that had been lost under Bush administration policies.<br />
"We want to make sure the waters that we have that are clean stay clean, and the work that is ongoing in terms of really restoring some of our waters, that we're able to continue that work effectively with everyone at the table," Toney said.<br />
The EPA and the corps will decide whether to adopt the rule after a 90-day public comment period ends July 21.
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