As expected, the Trump Administration officially has proposed to rescind an Obama Administration rule that broadened which Waters of the United States
(WOTUS) are under the protection of the Clean Water Act.
During his election campaign, President Donald Trump
had pledged to repeal the rule. Last February, he directed the
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army
Corps of Engineers (which manages the navigation and flows
of many domestic rivers) to consider replacing the Obama
Administration’s 2015 Clean Water Rule with a more limited
According to environmental groups, the key underlying issue in the policy battle is the safety of drinking water.
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said in the rulemaking, “We
are taking significant action to return power to the states and
provide regulatory certainty to our nation’s farmers and busi-
The agency will use a two-step approach. First, it will void
the 2015 Clean Water Rule, which has been stayed in many
areas by the Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. Then EPA
would proceed with a second rulemaking focusing on reeval-
uating the definitions for WOTUS.
Pruitt said, “We are committed to moving through this re-
evaluation quickly to provide regulatory certainty in a way
that is thoughtful, transparent and collaborative with other
agencies and the public.”
Critics said the Obama rule had asserted federal regulatory
authority over non-navigable ditches, sloughs, ponds, head-
waters, and wetlands that feed into larger water areas.
Many farming associations were outraged. Farmers said the
Obama rule would subject them to costly and time-intensive
federal permitting for commonplace activities. They are supported by an array of states attorneys general and national
groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Key Republicans in Congress support Trump’s rule rollback.
Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), the Environment and Public
Works Committee chairman, said, “The WOTUS rule would
have put backyard ponds, puddles, and prairie potholes under
Washington’s control. I applaud the Trump Administration for
working to remove this indefensible regulation.”
Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), chairman of the House Trans-
portation and Infrastructure Committee, said, “The Obama
Administration’s overreaching and ambiguous WOTUS rule
is simply an expansion of federal power that threatens to add
unnecessary burdens on states and local governments, Amer-
ica’s farmers, manufacturers, businesses, and communities,
and property owners across the entire country.”
Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), the senior Democrat on the
Senate environment panel, disagreed. “Instead of listening to
sound science and overwhelming public opinion, Mr. Pruitt
and this administration have yet again decided that less pro-
tection for our nation’s waters is best and that we should turn
the clock back to a more confusing time. If Mr. Pruitt doesn’t
think the current Clean Water Rule is perfect, instead of re-
pealing it, he should try to make it better,” Carper said.
Scott Faber, senior vice president of public affairs for the En-
vironmental Working Group (EWG), charged that the Trump
Administration is “poised to let industry and agriculture treat
much of the nation’s drinking water supply like an ashtray.”
An EWG report said more than a third (117 million) of
Americans get at least some of their drinking water from small
streams and more than 72 million people in 1,033 counties
rely on small streams for more than half of their water.
The future road — or waterway, if you prefer — for
WOTUS will be long and winding.
Promulgation of EPA’s new rules may take a couple of years.
Then federal judges will hold them in abeyance as legal challenges are litigated, perhaps to the U.S. Supreme Court. WW
About the Author: Patrick Crow covered the U.S. Congress and federal agencies for
21 years as a reporter for industry magazines. He has reported on water issues for
the past 15 years. Crow is now an Austin, Texas-based freelance writer.
BY PATRICK CROW
Trump Team Dives into
‘Waters of the U.S.’ Imbroglio