EPA delays Obama water rule

EPA delays Obama water rule
© Greg Nash

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is pushing back by two years an Obama administration rule redefining the federal government’s power over small waterways.

The Trump administration is working to repeal the rule, dubbed the Clean Water Rule or Waters of the United States (WOTUS), and formally proposed to do so last year.

But earlier this month, the Supreme Court overturned a federal appeals court’s action halting the rule, so it could take effect soon.

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EPA head Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittOVERNIGHT ENERGY: House Democrats chart course to 'solving the climate crisis' by 2050 | Commerce Department led 'flawed process' on Sharpiegate, watchdog finds | EPA to end policy suspending pollution monitoring by end of summer Watchdog: EPA hasn't provided 'sufficient justification' for decision not to recover Pruitt travel spending OVERNIGHT ENERGY: DOJ whistleblower says California emissions probe was 'abuse of authority' | EPA won't defend policy blocking grantees from serving on boards | Minnesota sues Exxon, others over climate change MORE said the Wednesday action is meant to stop the Clean Water Rule from taking effect due to the Supreme Court’s action.

“Today, EPA is taking action to reduce confusion and provide certainty to America’s farmers and ranchers,” Pruitt said in a statement.

“The 2015 WOTUS rule developed by the Obama administration will not be applicable for the next two years, while we work through the process of providing long-term regulatory certainty across all 50 states about what waters are subject to federal regulation.”

The EPA is taking the action alongside the Army Corps of Engineers, which also has responsibility for enforcing the Clean Water Act.

The Natural Resources Defense Council said the delay puts significant water supplies at risk, and said it would sue to stop the delay.

“EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is racing the clock to deny protections for our public health and safety. It’s grossly irresponsible, and illegal — and we’ll challenge it in court,” said Jon Devine, the group’s senior attorney.

The original 2015 rule was designed to clarify federal agencies’ authority and give them the power to regulate small waterways such as ponds, headwaters and wetlands for pollution prevention. It should have taken effect in 2015, but various courts halted it.

Republicans and many business groups fought the rule tooth and nail, saying it gave the federal government power over wide swaths of land.

Its repeal has been a top priority for President TrumpDonald John TrumpProtesters tear down statue of Christopher Columbus in Baltimore 'Independence Day' star Bill Pullman urges Americans to wear a 'freedom mask' in July 4 PSA Protesters burn American flag outside White House after Trump's July Fourth address MORE, and he signed an order to repeal it shortly after taking office.

Pruitt is also working to develop a new rule to replace the Obama rule’s definitions once it is fully repealed. The replacement rule would likely give the federal government power over a significantly smaller area.