- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Army and the Army Corps of Engineers have proposed rescinding the Clean Water Rule and then reinstating the regulation with language in place before 2015 changes which broadened EPA's jurisdiction.
- Known as "Waters of the U.S." (WOTUS), the Obama-era regulation is opposed by farmers, mining companies and rural utilities, which argue it extended federal authority too far over small bodies of water formerly left to state jurisdiction.
- Rolling back regulations was a key part of President Trump's environmental platform, but yesterday EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt heard bipartisan criticism over the White House's proposal to slash the agency's budget by more than 30%.
Four months after President Trump began issuing executive orders to roll back the EPA's authority, the administration is moving forward with a plan to undo the so-called WOTUS rule.
"We are taking significant action to return power to the states and provide regulatory certainty to our nation's farmers and businesses," Pruitt said in a statement. "This is the first step in the two-step process to redefine 'waters of the U.S.' and we are committed to moving through this re-evaluation to quickly provide regulatory certainty, in a way that is thoughtful, transparent and collaborative with other agencies and the public."
An executive order signed by Trump in February said it was important to ensure navigable waters protected, but also stressed the need promote economic growth and minimizing regulatory uncertainty. EPA's new proposed rule would recodify the same regulatory text that was in place prior to the 2015 Clean Water Rule.
Because U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit stayed the 2015 rule, the EPA said in a statement that "this action, when final, will not change current practice with respect to how the definition applies."
The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association issued a statement supporting the EPA's rollback.
CEO Jim Matheson said the group appreciates Pruitt "recognizing the need to revisit this overbearing regulation and avoid needless increased costs for millions of electric co-op consumers."
The Southern Environmental Law Center said the decision "calls into question basic protections for many streams and wetlands and jeopardizes clean water for all Americans."
Derb Carter, director of the Southern Environmental Law Center’s North Carolina offices, said that compared to other regions, "Southern states have more miles of streams, more acres of wetlands, and weak and underfunded state water quality programs, making the region especially vulnerable to the loss of federal clean water protections.”
Pruitt touted the WOTUS rollback on Capitol Hill yesterday, where he appeared before a Senate Appropriations Committee to defend the White House's budget proposal, which includes slashing the EPA's budget by more than 31%.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), was one of the Republicans indicating they had issues with the budget.
“We have rejected changes like these in past, and I will certainly push my colleagues to do so again this year,” Murkowski said, according to the Washington Post.
Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) called the budget “downright offensive."
"EPA’s core is hollowed out," Udall said. "These cuts aren’t an intent to rein in spending, they are an intentional step to undermine science and ignore environmental and public health realities.”