Thursday, June 10, 2021

'Waters of the U.S.' definition, widened under Obama and narrowed under Trump, in line for expansion under Biden

"The Biden administration has plans to roll out a new proposal for federal clean-water regulations, working to undo moves by the Trump administration that had eased permit requirements for landowners," Gabriel Rubin and Katy Ferek report for The Wall Street Journal. "The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday said it plans to start a regulatory process alongside the Justice Department to revise a Trump administration rule that the Biden administration says has reduced clean-water protections. A new rule would restore protections put in place by prior administrations, with a special emphasis on projects in arid Western states like New Mexico and Arizona."

EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in a statement, “We are committed to establishing a durable definition of ‘waters of the United States’ based on Supreme Court precedent and drawing from the lessons learned from the current and previous regulations.” U.S. Army Corps of Engineers regulators said "the Trump-era EPA rule has led to a 25 percentage-point reduction in 'determinations of waters that would otherwise be afforded protection,'" Rubin and Ferek report.

The Trump administration narrowed the definition of the term in the Clean Water Act in all but one state in June 2020, saying the new rules were clearer and would save landowners time and money. "The Trump rule rescinded an Obama-era one that expanded federal oversight to protect wildlife and the country’s drinking-water supply from industrial runoff and pollution in 2015," Rubin and Ferek report. "The expansion meant more landowners and developers needed to apply for permits. It also put them at greater risk of steep fines for polluting the country’s smaller waterways. Farmers, property developers, chemical manufacturers and oil-and-gas producers had fought the expansion, saying it inappropriately curtailed property owners’ rights."

UPDATE: American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall issued a statement saying that the nation's main agriculture lobbying group was "extremely disappointed" to do away with a rule that he said "brought clarity" to farmers and ranchers, Todd Neeley of Progressive Farmer reports.

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