EPA to propose easing Obama water rule

The Trump administration is poised to ease an Obama-era water rule, shrinking the number of waterways that are protected from industry pollutants.

The Environmental Protection Agency is expected to propose changing the definition of “Waters of the U.S.” to erase federal protections on some waters. The change would cover wetlands not connected to larger waterways or riverbeds that only flow after rainfall, according to an EPA outline obtained by E&E News.

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The Trump administration has long sought to weaken the burdens placed on industry under the Waters of the U.S. rule, known as WOTUS and established under former President Obama in 2015. The rule defines which bodies of water are subject to federal jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act.

The Clean Water Act was first established in the 1970s to give the federal government authority to regulate pollution discharges into waterways.

In June 2017, the EPA first announced steps to uphold President TrumpDonald John TrumpREAD: Transcript of James Comey's interview with House Republicans Klobuchar on 2020: ‘I do think you want voices from the Midwest’ Israel boycott fight roils Democrats in year-end spending debate MORE's campaign promise to repeal and replace the 2015 regulation. Trump took aim at the rule during his presidential campaign, calling WOTUS “one of the worst examples of federal regulation.”

The proposal said federal officials would go back to enforcing a guidance document from 2008 when deciding whether a waterway is subject to federal oversight for pollution control purposes.

In February of this year, the EPA under then-Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittUndoing the damage Pruitt and Zinke did to our environment Judges skeptical of case against Obama smog rule Interior chief Zinke to leave administration MORE suspended the WOTUS rule from implementation for two years, promising to rewrite it to “reduce confusion and provide certainty to America's farmers and ranchers.”

But in August that decision was put on a hold by a judge in 26 states.

The federal judge for the District Court of South Carolina ruled with environmentalists that the administration failed to seek public comment on the substance of the rule or the implications of delaying the regulation by two years.

However, injunctions from district courts in North Dakota and Georgia kept the rule from being re-implemented in 24 states.

The Obama rule, written in 2015 and known as the Clean Water Rule, was highly controversial.

It was intended to clarify that small waterways like ponds and headwaters can be protected. But agriculture, developers and other industries complained that it was too far-reaching and would subject huge swaths of land to federal oversight.

“Farmers, ranchers, landowners, and other stakeholders are counting on EPA to listen to their input when it comes to defining ‘waters of the United States,’” Pruitt said in a statement in June.

This latest rule would be a proposed replacement of WOTUS, although the administration is still seeking options to repeal it in its entirety.