The Trump administration on Tuesday moved to roll back the “Waters of the U.S.” policy of the Obama administration that bothered farmers and ranchers as meddling in every pond and puddle in fields and barn yards.
The 2015 regulation gave the Environmental Protection Agency “broad authority over regulating the pollution of wetlands and tributaries that run into the nation’s largest rivers,” but Trump’s EPA head, Scott Pruitt said Tuesday it would be revoked, the Washington Post reported.
Farmers and other rural interests had worked vigorously against the Obama rule, saying it would cost farmers and agricultural companies and related industries too much and treat small streams, even ditches, as part of WOTUS.
“Farmers and ranchers across this country are cheering,” said Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, according to The Associated Press.
He said the Obama rule was “a federal land grab designed to put a straitjacket on farming and private businesses across this nation.”
Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said that withdrawing the rule “would make it easier for irresponsible developers and others to contaminate our waters and send the pollution downstream.,” AP said. “We’ll stand up to this reckless attack on our waters and health.”
“We are taking significant action to return power to the states and provide regulatory certainty to our nation’s farmers and businesses,” EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said, adding that the re-evaluation would be “thoughtful, transparent and collaborative with other agencies and the public.”
Environmental groups denounced the move, saying it would remove drinking water safeguards for one in three Americans while jeopardizing thousands of streams that flow into larger rivers and lakes, plus wetlands that filter pollutants and soak up floodwaters.
“Clean water is vital to our ecology, our health and our quality of life,” said John Rumpler, senior attorney with Environment America. “Repealing the Clean Water Rule turns the mission of the EPA on its head.”
The EPA and the Army Corps said that dismantling the Obama rule would not change existing practices because the measure has been stayed by the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Cincinnati in response to opponents’ lawsuits.
The proposed repeal is the latest in a series of Trump moves to undo President Barack Obama’s environmental legacy, including withdrawal from the Paris climate change accord, rescinding the Clean Power Plan that sought to curb carbon emissions from coal-burning power plants and reversing a moratorium on leasing federal lands for coal mining. Trump also has proposed deep cuts in the EPA budget.
No one disputes that the 1972 Clean Water Act allows federal agencies to regulate navigable rivers and lakes. Less certain is the status of some 2 million miles of headwaters and streams that flow only part of the year — 60 percent of the river and stream miles in the Lower 48 states — plus 20 million acres of wetlands that aren’t directly connected to large waterways.
Under the Obama interpretation, those waters are protected. Business groups and some Republican state officials — including then-Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, now Trump’s EPA chief — filed suit, contending that the regulation gave federal officials too much authority over waters that don’t cross state lines or have a clear link to waters that are covered.
The regulation was in effect for a short period in 2015 before the appeals court issued a stay. Those legal challenges still are pending.
Response to Tuesday’s announcement largely fell down party lines, with congressional Republicans hailing the move.
The rule “would have put backyard ponds, puddles and prairie potholes under Washington’s control,” said Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. “I applaud the Trump administration for working to remove this indefensible regulation.”
South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley, who is running for governor, hailed Pruitt’s announcement.
“It was always my concern that both the EPA and the (Army) Corps (of Engineers) exceeded their authority granted by Congress,” Jackley said in a news release on Tuesday. He was one of 13 state attorneys general that filed a suit in federal court in North Dakota on June 29, 2015, seeking to strip the rule of its enforcement. The federal court issued an injunction on Aug. 27, 2015 to delay the rule’s implementation until a review of the process, Jackley said.
“Today, the EPA and the Corps took a step forward in the process of restoring the control back to the states. I look forward to their final action to withdraw the WOTUS rule and provide relief to the states.”
Pruitt told senators in testimony on Tuesday that the Obama rule “created a situation where farmers and ranchers, landowners across the country did not know whether their stream or dry creek bed, in some instances, was actually subject . . . to EPA jurisdiction and EPA authority, the Post reported.