Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Trump to sign executive order rolling back definition of 'waters of the United States'

President Trump today "will instruct the Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers to 'review and reconsider' a 2015 rule" defining "waters of the United States" under the Clean Water Act, The Washington Post reported, citing a senior official. That "could ultimately make it easier for agricultural and development interests to drain wetlands and small streams," Juliet Eilperin and Abby Phillip report.

"The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the executive order had not yet been signed, said the directive aimed to address the concerns of about 30 states and an array of business interests that have criticized the previous administration for overreaching," reports the Post. "The final outcome of Trump’s order could have tremendous implications for the agricultural, real estate, gravel, sand and ranching sectors, as well as a critical habitat for aquatic species and migratory birds."

"Still, it could take well over a year for the directive to be carried out. It will likely trigger a fresh round of rulemaking, but could also lead to extensive litigation as the agencies seek to redefine federal restrictions on what accounts for 60 percent of the nation’s water bodies," reports the Post. 

The "WOTUS" rule, which expanded the number of waterways that are federally protected, was finalized by EPA and the Corps in May 2015, David Shepardson notes for Reuters. Eighteen states challenged the rule and in October 2015 it was blocked by a federal appeals court pending further court challenges.

"Critics contend the rule vastly expands the federal government's authority and could apply to ditches and small isolated bodies of water," Shepardson writes. "The EPA under President Barack Obama said the rule protects waters that are next to rivers and lakes and their tributaries 'because science shows that they impact downstream waters.'"

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