Trump administration drops Obama-era water protection rule

Wetlands in Newcastle. Staff

Wetlands in Newcastle. Staff

The Environmental Protection Agency is rolling back a 2015 rule that expanded the number waterways that were under the protection of the agency.

Former EPA chief Scott Pruitt often said a dry creek bed could have been regulated as a "water of the United States" under the Obama-era definition.

It is expected that the new rule, still being developed, will retain federal protections for larger bodies of water, the rivers that drain into them and wetlands that are directly adjacent to those bodies of water.

"Today, EPA and the Department of the Army finalized a rule to repeal the previous administration's overreach in the federal regulation of US waters and recodify the longstanding and familiar regulatory text that previously existed", EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said. The order said that it's in the nation's interest to keep waterways free of pollution, while still promoting economic growth and cutting regulatory uncertainty.

"I have been fighting tooth and nail to repeal the 2015 WOTUS rule since it was first proposed", said a statement from Gibbs. Farm and business groups have criticized WOTUS from its inception in 2015 as federal overreach, both in terms of how it was applied and whether the EPA had that power to begin with.

The rollback is the latest in a series of actions by the Trump administration to weaken or undo major environmental rules.

While environmental groups said the WOTUS rules were needed to prevent pollution and ensure clean drinking water, NAM President and CEO Jay Timmons said courts rejected it after years of litigation and manufacturers "are pleased to see it officially struck from the books".

"The proposal's new, more precise definition would mean that farmers, landowners and businesses will spend less time and money determining whether they need a federal permit and more time upgrading aging infrastructure, building homes, creating jobs and growing crops to feed our families", Wheeler said.

For more than 46 years, the Clean Water Act has proved effective at making rivers, lakes, and streams safer for swimming, fishing, and drinking.

Today's rule will lead to an increase in the dumping of toxic waste in wetlands and streams across the United States and allow the destruction of millions of acres of wetlands critical to endangered wildlife. The rule, released Thursday, deals with defining what natural features are considered federal waters under the Clean Water Act.

"The withdrawal rule has been very controversial, and is now nearly three years in the making", said Mark Ryan, a leading expert on the Clean Water Act who helped write the rule near the end of his 24-year career as a senior litigator for the EPA.

While it's unclear exactly what the new rule will say, environmental groups have panned the idea as a threat to the nation's waterways.

Critics argue that it isn't, and the decision is sure to face court challenges under something called the Administrative Procedures Act.