The Trump administration appears poised to finalize its replacement to stream and wetland regulations, and is expected to roll back a large body of federal protections.
The Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers, which jointly regulate so-called waters of the US, have scheduled a late-morning news conference for Thursday. The New York Times reported late Wednesday the announcement would be this long-awaited rollback.
In September, the EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler announced the repeal of the Obama-era Waters of the United States rule, or WOTUS, calling it an “egregious power grab.” The repeal became effective in December.
The 2015 regulation had defined which bodies of water are protected under the federal Clean Water Act.
Environmental groups, which have vowed to bring legal challenges against the rule, fear the changes would protect fewer small waterways and could result in more pollution into drinking water, harm people’s health and have economic effects.
The EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers proposed its replacement rule in February to revise the definition of “waters of the United States” to exclude protections for wetlands, rivers and streams, including during heavy rain, that don’t flow to “navigable waters.”
Also excluded from protection are artificially irrigated areas, roadside and farm ditches, and farm and stock ponds.
Large rivers, streams, certain lakes and ponds, and wetlands along coastlines or that flow into larger bodies of water will remain protected.
The Times reported that the replacement rule will be implemented in the next few weeks.
In a public comment, the Southern Environmental Law Center called it the “biggest rollback in clean water protections in the 47 years” since the Clean Water Act was enacted.
They argue that it would allow industrial facilities to dump chemicals and waste into streams without regulation.
Members of the EPA’s own Scientific Advisory Board raised concerns last month about several of the Trump administration’s environmental priorities, including on clean water regulations.
In draft responses to several EPA policies posted online, board members said the Trump administration’s overhaul of water regulations “decreases protection for our Nation’s waters and does not support the objective of restoring and maintaining ‘the chemical, physical and biological integrity’ of these waters.”
The Trump’s rollback of WOTUS was a win for National Association of Manufacturers, a trade group which lobbied against the Obama rule and its legal arm previously sued to block it.
Shortly after taking office, Trump signed an executive order that directed the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers to review WOTUS and propose a new rule either rescinding or revising the 2015 regulation.
Trump slammed WOTUS as the “one of the most ridiculous regulations of all” Sunday night at the American Farm Bureau Federation’s annual conference, suggesting that the rule had “basically took your property away from you” and allowed bureaucrats to “micromanage America’s farmers.”