President Trump signed an order Tuesday directing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to formally reconsider former President Barack ObamaBarack ObamaTrump floods the zone for 100-day anniversary Trump team did background check on Flynn, knew of Turkey ties: report Trump: 'I couldn't care less about golf' MORE’s Clean Water Rule.
The executive order is an opening shot by Trump against the EPA, which was a frequent target of criticism from Republicans for alleged overreach under Obama’s tenure.
It’s the first step toward repealing the 2015 water rule, which asserted federal power over small waterways like wetlands and streams for the purposes of controlling pollution under the Clean Water Act. Trump promised on the campaign trail to repeal the regulation.
“It’s a horrible, horrible rule. Has sort of a nice name, but everything else is bad,” Trump said at a White House signing ceremony, surrounded by Vice President Pence, first lady Melania Trump and top opponents of the regulation, including newly installed EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, Sen. Jim InhofeJames InhofeTaiwan deserves to participate in United Nations Optimism rising for infrastructure deal Repeal of Obama drilling rule stalls in the Senate MORE (R-Okla.), Sen. Heidi HeitkampHeidi HeitkampDems struggle with abortion litmus test Lawmakers reintroduce online sales tax bills Overnight Regulation: Senators call for 'cost-effective' regs | FCC chief unveils plans to roll back net neutrality MORE (D-N.D.) and Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-Ohio.).
“The Clean Water Act says that the EPA can regulate navigable waters, meaning waters that truly affect interstate commerce. But a few years ago, the EPA decided that navigable waters can mean nearly every puddle or every ditch on a farmer’s land, or any place else that they decide,” Trump said before signing the order.
“It was a massive power grab. The EPA’s regulators are putting people out of jobs by the hundreds of thousands.”
The rule, also known as Waters of the United States, is currently on hold, blocked by the Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit due to litigation against it.
Since the rule is already on hold, Trump’s order doesn’t change much immediately. It does not repeal the rule, instead directing the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers to consider rolling it back, a process likely to take years.
Trump’s order also asks the agencies to take into account what late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in 2006, describing a far more limited jurisdiction for the federal government over waterways, a senior administration official told reporters Monday.
The White House has not released the text of the order.
Opponents of the rule have long tried to kill the water rule through the courts or legislative means. They say its definitions are so expansive that it could give the federal government authority over puddles, dry areas and farming ditches.
The rule’s supporters criticized Trump’s action.
Gina McCarthyGina McCarthyBusiness leaders must stand up and 'March for Science' on Saturday Trump isn't saving the coal industry. He's letting it compete. EPA chief: ‘Help is on the way’ for farmers MORE, EPA chief under Obama from 2013 to earlier this year, slammed Trump’s action.
“An executive order may give the illusion they’re fulfilling a campaign promise to gut the EPA, but it doesn't ‘trump’ a rule,” said McCarthy, one of the main architects of the regulation.
The order just “continues to deny 117 million people in the U.S. of the comfort of knowing the waters they rely on for drinking water are not being protected,” she continued.
“Instead of protecting the things we hold dear like our tap water, our rivers or our health, President Trump is, once again, protecting big polluters,” said Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council.
“The Clean Water Rule’s safeguards are grounded in science and law,” she said. “The rule was developed over many years, after more than 1 million public comments.”
“President Trump is doing a tremendous service for landowners across the country by instructing his administration to repeal of the Obama-era WOTUS regulation,” said Tom Pyle, a Trump ally and head of the conservative Institute for Energy Research.
“The rule was never about protecting water. It was designed to expand the federal government's reach into management decisions on state and private lands,” he said. “Far from attacking clean water, today's decision begins the process of returning power to states, local communities and property owners.”
This story was updated at 3:07 p.m.