Trump administration to repeal waterway protections

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Thursday announced final plans to redefine and thus shrink the waterways that must be protected under the law, a move likely to be swiftly challenged legally by environmentalists.

The final plans to repeal the 2015 Obama-era Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule would stymie the federal government’s capacity to regulate pollutants in wetlands and tributaries that feed into large rivers.

ADVERTISEMENT

EPA Administrator Andrew WheelerAndrew WheelerScientists join Democrats in panning EPA's 'secret science' rule Overnight Energy: BLM staff face choice of relocation or resignation as agency moves | Trump says he's 'very much into climate' | EPA rule would expand limits on scientific studies EPA rule proposes to expand limitations on scientific studies MORE told a crowd Thursday afternoon that the plans will entirely scrap the prior definition of the rule, relegating waterway protections back to 1986 standards.

"Thanks to the leadership of the EPA we can move forward with a water rule that protects clean water, is within the bounds of the law and doesn’t pose a threat to manufacturing in America, Wheeler said.

"We have to have regulatory certainty, clean, fair smart regulations of environmental law."

EPA made the announcement at the National Association of Manufacturers' Washington, D.C. headquarters. The trade group has fervently lobbied for WOTUS's repeal. The gathered crowd included Reps. Bruce WestermanBruce Eugene WestermanOvernight Energy: House passes bill to prohibit mining near Grand Canyon| Union says EPA refuses to renegotiate contract | Climate protesters occupy Pelosi's office over California fires House passes bill to prohibit mining near Grand Canyon Trump administration to repeal waterway protections MORE (R-AR.) and Sam GravesSamuel (Sam) Bruce GravesDemocratic lawmaker asks for probe of reports Chao favored Kentucky officials Trump administration to repeal waterway protections Republicans spend more than million at Trump properties MORE (R-MO) as well as top executives at Dominion Energy, The American Farm Bureau Association and the National Association of Home Builders, many of which gave statements at the event.

The Administrator said the repeal was the first step in a process of ultimately replacing the WOTUS definition. The agency will announce those new guidelines for which water bodies should remain federally protected by the end of the year.

"In the proposal we are clearly defining the difference between federally regulated waterways and those of state authority," said Wheeler.

"Together, our proposed definition and existing state programs will provide a strong network of coverage with our nations water resources."

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

Environmentalists say the rule is essential because small waterways eventually flow into larger ones. They say the rule is also necessary to protect drinking water sources from contamination.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpGOP senators balk at lengthy impeachment trial Warren goes local in race to build 2020 movement 2020 Democrats make play for veterans' votes MORE made promises to dismantle the rule upon first coming into office. A February 2017 executive order directed the EPA to begin actions toward “the elimination of this very destructive and horrible rule.”

The EPA under former Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittOvernight Energy: Trump officials suspend oil, gas production on Utah plots after lawsuit | California bucks Trump on lightbulb rollback | Scientists join Dems in panning EPA's 'secret science' rule Scientists join Democrats in panning EPA's 'secret science' rule Overnight Energy: BLM staff face choice of relocation or resignation as agency moves | Trump says he's 'very much into climate' | EPA rule would expand limits on scientific studies MORE first showed signs of dismantling WOTUS when Pruitt suspended the rule from implementation for two years in early 2018, promising to rewrite it to “reduce confusion and provide certainty to America's farmers and ranchers.”

The EPA first announced plans to repeal WOTUS last winter.

Wheeler pointed to Trump's focus on WOTUS for movement on the rule's repeal, saying the president "immediately set in motion a process to improve and replace regulatory burdens."

"Obama's WOTUS definition was at the top of the list," Wheeler said.

Wheeler also championed a report he said found that EPA was the top agency to comply with Trump's two for one executive order--which mandated that for every one regulation made, two must be repealed.

In August a pair of Republican Senators introduced legislation to put the onus on Congress instead of the EPA to define which waters should be regulated under the law. The bill proposed by Sens. Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstTrump holds chummy meeting with Turkey's Erdoğan Overnight Defense: Trump hosts Erdoğan at White House | Says Turkish leader has 'great relationship with the Kurds' | Highlights from first public impeachment hearing Senate Democrats introduce Violence Against Women Act after bipartisan talks break down MORE (R-Iowa) and Mike BraunMichael BraunGOP senators balk at lengthy impeachment trial Senate GOP waves Trump off early motion to dismiss impeachment charges GOP senator: Republicans don't have votes to dismiss impeachment articles MORE (R-Ind.) would dramatically scale back federal jurisdiction over water. 

“As a member of the Ag community, President Trump and EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler are keeping their promise to repealing the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule that gave unelected bureaucrats the power to regulate lakes, streams, ponds and ditches,” Braun said in a statement Thursday.   

Court rulings in 28 states have kept WOTUS from being fully implemented across the U.S.

Environmental groups are already threatening to sue over the repeal.

"EPA is misleading the public by claiming that this regulation simply repeals the 2015 Clean Water Rule,” said Kelly Foster, a senior attorney for the Waterkeeper Alliance, in a statement.

“The truth is that this is an illegal attempt to reinterpret the prior longstanding regulatory definition to eliminate anti-pollution requirements for rivers, streams, wetlands and other waters that have been in place since the 1970s.”

Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said the group plans to fight the rollback.

"This administration has shown nothing but disdain for America’s natural heritage and the wildlife we cherish,” said Hartl in a statement.

“We’ll fight this illegal rollback and every aspect of Trump’s incredibly harmful anti-environmental agenda.”

Updated 2:40 p.m.