White House Repeals Obama-Era Clean Water Rule

September 13, 2019 by Dan McCue

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration announced Thursday that it is repealing an  Obama-era clean water rule that had placed limits on polluting chemicals that could be used near streams, wetlands and other bodies of water.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the repeal of the 2015 Waters of the United States rule will go into effect in a matter of weeks.

President Donald Trump has been calling for the elimination of the rule since he was a candidate on the 2016 campaign trail, maintaining that it was an example of federal overreach that infringed on the rights of real estate developers, farmers and rural landowners.

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler echoed the president’s sentiments during a Thursday press conference, saying “Today’s final rule puts an end to an egregious power-grab.”

Going forward, he said, the administration’s replacement rule will clearly define “where federal jurisdiction begins and ends.”

As a result, Wheeler promised, farmers, private property owners and businesses “will spend less time and money determining whether they need a federal permit and more time building infrastructure.”

R.D. James, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, said the new rule will replace a “patchwork of regulations that exist across the country as a result of various judicial decisions enjoining the 2015 Rule.

“This final rule reestablishes national consistency across the country by returning all jurisdictions to the longstanding regulatory framework that existed prior to the 2015 Rule, which is more familiar to the agencies, States, Tribes, local governments, regulated entities, and the public while the agencies engage in a second rulemaking to revise the definition of ‘waters of the United States.’”

Among those who immediately cheered the move was the American Farm Bureau Federation.

“Farmers and ranchers share the goal of ensuring clean water, but the 2015 Waters of the United States rule was unreasonable and unworkable,” said Zippy Duvall, the federation’s president. “It made conservation more difficult and created huge liabilities for farmers.”

“No regulation is perfect, and no rule can accommodate every concern, but the 2015 rule was especially egregious. We are relieved to put it behind us,” Duvall continued. ” We are now working to ensure a fair and reasonable substitute that protects our water and our ability to work and care for the land.”

But environmentalists said the move would leave millions of Americans with less safe drinking water and damage wetlands that prevent flooding.

Jon Devine, director of federal water policy at the Natural Resources Defense Council, issued a statement saying, “This unsubstantiated action is illegal and will certainly be challenged in court.”

The Obama administration drafted the 2015 rule under the authority of the Clean Water Act. It extended federal authority to limit pollution in large bodies of water, like the Chesapeake Bay and the smaller bodies of water that drain into them, including small streams and wetlands.

Under the rule, farmers, like Duvall’s members were prohibited from planting certain crops if a wetland or stream traversed their land, and they had to secure federal permits is they wanted to use chemical pesticides.

The Trump administration rule is still being written by the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, but it is expected to keep federal protections for larger bodies and the rivers that flow into them in place.

Bodies of water that will no longer be subject to protections include isolated wetlands, and streams and ponds that emerge only in heavy rains.

The final rule takes effect 60 days after publication in the Federal Register.

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