Trump Rolls Back Protections of Streams and Waterways

McCloud River, Siskiyou County, California. (Michael Kahn / MK Library via Wikipedia)

DALLAS (CN) – The Trump administration announced Thursday the replacement of Obama-era protections of streams and wetlands that farmers and businesses have criticized as being unnecessary and cumbersome.

Officials with the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Representatives Louie Gohmert, R-Tyler, and Ron Wright, R-Arlington, announced in Dallas a replacement for the 2015 “Waters of the United States” rule that extended federal protections under the Clean Water Act of 1972.

The rule protected over half of the county’s waterways, reducing the dumping of pesticides, fertilizers and chemicals. It also limited the destruction of wetlands for new development.

The new rule rolls back protections for certain wetlands and streams that run intermittently or temporarily underground and will no longer require landowners to have permits that the EPA had considered on a case-by-case basis before 2015.

EPA Regional Administrator Ken McQueen told reporters the replacement rule will reduce the federal government’s involvement in states’ regulation of waterways, saying the agency will instead aim regulations to take part in the “network” of existing state laws.

Congressman Gohmert heaped praise on President Donald Trump for repealing the “unnecessary” rule, noting that the EPA and Army’s “overreach” and “power grabs” under Obama had him doubting he would ever be able to congratulate the two agencies. Wright recalled his experience growing up on a Texas dairy farm as a child and how the unfettered use of ditches and ponds are the lifeblood of dairy farmers.

The rule’s replacement has been anticipated since EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler announced its formal repeal four months ago.

President Donald Trump has promised farmers and businesses for three years he would repeal and replace the rule. A property developer himself, Trump told attendees at the American Farm Bureau Federation’s convention Sunday in Austin that the rule “basically took your property away from you” and that he “terminated one of the most ridiculous regulations of all.”

One of Trump’s very first official acts as president was signing an executive order in 2017 directing the EPA to reconsider the regulation.

The Obama-era rule was not free from controversy itself, as it was the subject of repeated litigation. Businesses and farmers claim the rule stepped on state authority and was too burdensome and costly.

The EPA said in September that it was repealing the rule, in part, to “avoid interpretations of the CWA that push the envelope of their constitutional and statutory authority absent a clear statement from Congress authorizing the encroachments of federal jurisdiction over traditional state land-use planning authority.”

Critics quickly denounced Trump’s rule change. Betsy Southerland, former director of the EPA’s Office of Science and Technology, said the new rule is “scientifically indefensible and socially unjust,” and will “result in the impairment of drinking water, fisheries, and flood control” for communities.

“This rule transfers the costs of pollution control and wetland protection from miners, oil and gas producers, and land developers who will no longer be regulated to downstream communities who will have to pay to protect themselves,” she said in a written statement.

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