Wednesday, June 28, 2017

EPA following through on Trump move against Obama's 'waters of the U.S.' definition

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt says he will scale back the agency's authority to regulate “the pollution of wetlands and tributaries that feed into the nation's largest rivers,” report Steven Mufson and Juliet Eilperin of The Washington Post. Trump had indicated the move was coming, but “this is the first clear signal of how the EPA will act.”

When he was attorney general of Oklahoma, Pruitt sued the EPA over its definition of the Clean Water Act's key phrase "waters of the United States" on the grounds that it was too costly for landowners to adhere to, unlawfully broadened the definition of "waters" and trumped state authority. Pruitt says he plans to recuse himself from working on active litigation in the matter, but testified before Congress that the EPA would withdraw the rule and revert back to standards as they stood in 2008. Because courts have muddied the definition of the rule, EPA will have to write a new one, which is likely to prompt more court action, Mufson and Eilperin write.

"The existing regulation covers wetlands adjacent to either traditional navigable waters or interstate waters, as well as streams serving as tributaries to navigable waters," the Post explains. "The rule says that wetlands and tributaries must be 'relatively permanent,' a phrase used in previous court opinions, which means they can be intermittent. Defining it this way extends federal jurisdiction to 60 percent of the water bodies in the United States."

Trump called rule "destructive" and "horrible" in February when he asked the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers to look into repealing it. Trump argued that the agencies should rely on the opinion of the late Justice Antonin Scalia to define what kind of waters fall under federal jurisdiction. In the Supreme Court's 2006 Rapanos v. United States decision, Scalia's dissenting opinion was that the federal government's authority under the Clean Water Act only applies to "navigable waters."

Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, says EPA's move "strikes directly at public health" because it "would strip out needed protections for the streams that feed drinking water sources for one in every three Americans." But House Speaker Paul Ryan said, “This regulation would have been a disaster for rural communities in the West and across the country, giving Washington near-total control over water resources.”

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