Thursday, February 01, 2018

'Waters of the U.S.' rule dead; EPA says it will consult with states, farmers, environmentalists about replacement

Today Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt concluded the formal process of suspending the most controversial Obama-era water regulation for the next two years, and said he plans to release a different version of the rule later this year. His order takes effect Tuesday, Feb. 6, and lawsuits are expected shortly thereafter.

The 2015 "Waters of the United States" rule defined the scope of the Clean Water Act, and would have limited the use of pollutants like fertilizers that could run off into small streams. It also defined waterways more broadly, which caused expensive headaches for farmers. At the behest of farmers, rural landowners and real estate developers, eighteen states challenged the rule, and in October 2015 it was blocked by a federal appeals court pending further court challenges, Coral Davenport reports for The New York Times.

"The EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have been racing to pause [WOTUS] since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a nationwide ban on the regulation Jan. 22," Amena Saiyid reports for Bloomberg Environment. "The Supreme Court could issue its final order to enforce its decision as early as Feb. 15, which means the rule would have taken effect across most of the country. A district court has already blocked the rule in 14 states."

Pruitt said the rollback he signed today will avoid confusion and uncertainty that could be caused by the ruling. The attorneys general of California, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia have signaled that they will consider suing the administration over the suspension, Saiyid reports.

It's unclear when Pruitt will share his replacement plan. He promised to rewrite it no later than May and have it in place by the end of 2018, but the EPA's regulatory agenda says the final rewrite won't be out until June 2019, Saiyid reports. The EPA and the Corps plan to consult with state water, environmental and agriculture officials this month about the scope of the Clean Water Act.

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