WASHINGTON (CN) – The Trump administration Thursday formally rolled back a major Obama-era policy that brought under federal protection many streams and wetlands across the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler made the announcement Thursday afternoon, formally revoking the so-called Waters of the United States regulation, which defined what bodies of water the federal government may regulate.
Wheeler said revoking the regulation will give greater clarity to businesses, farmers and others who were impacted by the regulations the Obama EPA put in place in 2015.
“Today, EPA and the Department of the Army finalized a rule to repeal the previous administration’s overreach in the federal regulation of U.S. waters and recodify the longstanding and familiar regulatory text that previously existed,” Wheeler said in a statement Thursday.
The administration will now get to work enacting a replacement regulation. The EPA unveiled its proposed replacement plan in 2018, significantly scaling back the Obama-era regulations. The Trump administration’s proposal allowed federal regulation of “traditional navigable waters,” their tributaries and “certain” ditches, lakes and ponds, but not of groundwater, ditches or features that do not always hold water.
Thursday’s move had been anticipated for some time, as Trump signed an executive order in 2017 directing the EPA to reconsider the regulation, which the president referred to as “very destructive and horrible.” The order was among his first official acts as president.
Critics of the Obama rule have said it vastly expanded the regulatory power of the federal government and put an unnecessary burden on businesses. The regulation drew a host of court challenges and was partially blocked from going into effect in some states.
Wheeler said the Trump administration’s version of the rule will “provide greater regulatory certainty for farmers, landowners, home builders and developers,” but environmental groups have been less sanguine about its impacts.
Environmental advocates say the Obama regulation was a critical environmental protection and that its repeal will bring back regulatory confusion that arose following two Supreme Court decisions in the early 2000s that made it unclear what kinds of water features the government could regulate under the Clean Water Act.
“We need to be doing more as a nation, not less, to safeguard clean water,” Bob Irvin, president and CEO of American Rivers, said in a statement Thursday. “With millions from New Jersey to California lacking access to safe drinking water and with toxic algae from North Carolina to Oregon threatening public health and our pets, now is not the time to create more loopholes for polluters.”
The EPA’s rollback of the regulation is expected to face challenges in court, much like its predecessor did.