UPDATED: Trump withdraws water supply rule amid environmental rollbacks
President Trump on Sunday highlighted for farmers his plans to scale back another Obama-era water policy, a move the White House believes could pay dividends with the farm vote in this year’s presidential election.
Speaking to the crowd at the American Farm Bureau Federation conference in Austin, Texas, Trump said he would be withdrawing a water supply rule proposed in the final days of the Obama administration.
“I am proud to announce that I am taking another step to protect the water rights of American farmers and ranchers,” Trump told the room of Texas farmers.
“I am directing the Corps of Engineers to immediately withdraw the proposed rule…and allow states to manage their water resources based on their own needs and based on what their farmers and ranchers want,” he continued, referencing 2016 proposed tweaks to the Water Supply Act.
“Water is the lifeblood of agriculture and we will always protect your water supply,” Trump added.
Trump’s comments come as those with a stake in water rights await another rollback promised since the president’s campaign days.
The White House is soon expected to replace the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule, crafted under the Obama administration, which expanded the types of waterways protected by federal law. But farmers and other groups have argued the law was too far-reaching, requiring grand efforts to protect relatively small bodies of water that run through their property, ultimately subjecting large swaths of land to federal oversight.
There had been an expectation that Trump might announce the withdrawal of this rule at the Farm Bureau event.
Rolling back WOTUS or the Water Supply Act could help Trump secure the farm vote — a group he views as a key part of his base but one that has been jeopardized by trade wars and an ethanol policy that has hurt many farmers’ bottom lines.
But it will bring criticism from other groups, adding to Democratic arguments that Trump’s policies have been devastating to the environment and are hurting air and water quality while contributing to climate change.
The EPA’s independent Science Advisory Board reviewed Trump’s WOTUS proposal earlier this year, writing in a draft report that “aspects of the proposed rule are in conflict with established science… and the objectives of the Clean Water Act.”
A diminished federal role would leave a greater share of water supervision to the states, many of which have cut budgets for their environmental regulators over the last decade.
“There is no question that President Trump is making millions of Americans vulnerable to polluted water with this action. This rollback was bought and paid for by the mining industry, and it will have significant consequences for states, who will shoulder a huge burden to protect drinking water from pollution,” Ryan Richards, a senior policy analyst at the Center for American Progress, said in a statement about WOTUS.
Sunday’s announcement follows a September rule that scrapped the prior definition of water, reverting waterway protections back to 1986 standards.
Environmentalists and attorneys general have argued those changes will gut the Clean Water Act as pollution from farming, manufacturing, and energy production leach into water with less supervision.
A coalition of 14 states sued over the September roll back, arguing that returning the U.S. to the narrower 1986 standard ignores studies showing how small bodies of water, even seasonal snowmelt, connect with and impact larger bodies of water more typically targeted for regulation.
“Attorneys general across this nation will not stand by as the Trump administration seeks to reverse decades of progress we’ve made in fighting water pollution,” New York Attorney General Letitia James said when the coalition first filed suit.
EDITOR’S NOTE: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Trump had announced the rolling back of the WOTUS rule.