The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Thursday announced final plans to repeal an Obama-era rule and shrink the federal government’s capacity to regulate pollutants in wetlands and tributaries that feed into large rivers, rolling back waterway protections back to 1986 standards.
EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler told a crowd Thursday afternoon that the plans will entirely scrap the prior definition of the 2015 Obama-era Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule.
“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 Hill reports:
The trade group has fervently lobbied for WOTUS’s repeal. The gathered crowd included Reps. Bruce Westerman (R-AR.) and Sam Graves (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,” he added.
The initial intent of the Obama rule was 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.
Trump’s February 2017 executive order directed the EPA to begin actions toward “the elimination of this very destructive and horrible rule.”
“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.”