White House Moves to Jettison Obama-Era Water Rules

WASHINGTON (CN) – The Trump administration is poised to revoke an Obama-era rule which gave the EPA broad powers to regulate pollution levels in waterways and natural wetlands throughout the United States.

The proposed repeal was published in the Federal Register on Tuesday, the same day that EPA administrator Scott Pruitt testified before the Senate Appropriations Committee and promised senators his agency would home in on its primary mission: protecting clean water and air for all.

Citing the “significant action” taken under his leadership, Pruitt also towed a familiar line about protection — the protection of states’ rights.

“We are taking significant action to return power to the states and provide regulatory certainty to our nation’s farmers and businesses,” Pruitt said in a statement on Tuesday. “This is the first step in the two-step process to redefine ‘waters of the U.S.’ and we are committed to moving through this re-evaluation to quickly provide regulatory certainty, in a way that is thoughtful, transparent and collaborative with other agencies and the public.”

The proposed repeal of the Obama-are rules follows much of President Donald Trump’s February executive order, entitled “Restoring the Rule of Law, Federalism and Economic Growth by reviewing the ‘Waters of the United States’ Rule.” The rule is more commonly referred to as WOTUS.

First proposed in 2014, the rule gave the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers the authority to regulate pollution of waterways.

It also expanded protection of 20 million acres of wetlands and 2 million miles of streams.

Its 1972 predecessor, the Clean Water Act, gave the same agencies control over national waterways but after facing a barrage of civil complaints the agency’s regulatory power was ambiguous. Former President Barack Obama intended to clear up the confusion by finalizing WOTUS in 2015.

Trump’s February order said a repeal of the rule was of national interest doing so would spur economic growth.

But Rhea Suh, president of Natural Resources Defense Center, said in a statement Tuesday that the administration’s proposal  strikes directly at public health. It would strip out needed protections for the streams that feed drinking water sources for one in every three Americans. Clean water is too important for that … The Clean Water Rule provides the clarity we need to protect clean water. Its repeal would make it easier for irresponsible developers and others to contaminate our waters and send the pollution down streams.”

The American Farm Bureau sees the repeal in a much different light.

“The final rule provides none of the clarity and certainty it promises. Instead, it creates confusion and risk by giving the agencies almost unlimited authority to regulate, at their discretion, any low spot where rainwater collects, including common farm ditches, ephemeral drainages, agricultural ponds and isolated wetlands found in and near farms and ranches across the nation,” the bureau said in a statement on its website.

“ The rule defines terms like “tributary” and “adjacent” in ways that make it impossible for farmers and ranchers to know whether the specific ditches, ephemeral drains or low areas on their land will be deemed “waters of the U.S.” But these definitions are broad enough to give regulators (and citizen plaintiffs) plenty of room to assert that such areas are subject to [Clean Water Act] regulation. The rule will give the agencies sweeping new authority to regulate land use, which they may exercise at will, or at the whim of a citizen plaintiff,” the statement continued.

Pruitt told senators Tuesday that the Obama-era rule created a bevy of unfair fines for farmers and other landowners who were stuck between a rock and a hard place as they tried to figure out where they could expand their properties.

“I mean, it was something that created a substantial amount of uncertainty and confusion,” he said.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R.-Wis., celebrated the move.

“The West has finally won in the battle over the Obama administration’s WOTUS rule. This regulation would have been a disaster for the West and rural communities across the country, giving Washington near-total control over water resources. The livelihoods of American farmers, ranchers and entrepreneurs were at stake,” he said.

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