The Environmental Protection Agency will rescind an Obama-era regulation that critics argued would expand federal control over non-navigable bodies of water on private property.
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt announced Tuesday the agency would repeal the Clean Water Rule, or the “waters of the United States” rule (WOTUS), which was finalized by the Obama administration in 2015.
“We are taking significant action to return power to the states and provide regulatory certainty to our nation’s farmers and businesses,” Pruitt said in a statement.
In February, President Donald Trump ordered EPA to review WOTUS and, if necessary, replace it with a rule that interprets the term “navigable waters” in a “manner consistent with the opinion of Justice Antonin Scalia in Rapanos v. United States.”
The Obama administration did not rely on Scalia’s reasoning to craft WOTUS. EPA argued WOTUS was needed to clear up jurisdictional confusion in the wake of two U.S. Supreme Court cases.
Thirty-two states filed suit against EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to overturn the rule. Pruitt was party to the suit while attorney general of Oklahoma. WOTUS opponents saw an early victory in August 2015 when a federal judge in North Dakota issued a stay against the rule, suggesting it suffered from legal problems.
Republicans, industry and property owners saw the rule as a federal land grab. Republicans claimed the EPA’s rule was influenced by left-wing environmental activists.
Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz, the chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, issued a report that found high-level White House staffers “assured environmentalist groups the Administration would quickly finalize the WOTUS rule.”
That “caused the career staff involved in developing the rule to feel pressure to meet accelerated timelines, which caused deficiencies in the regulatory process,” according to Chaffetz’s report.
In 2015, the Government Accountability Office found EPA had violated federal anti-lobbying rules by conducting a massive social media campaign with environmentalists to promote WOTUS.
Environmentalists called Pruitt’s move an “assault” on clean water.
— Friends of the Earth (@foe_us) June 27, 2017
EPA now begins the process of reissuing the rule, but with a narrower definition of “waters of the U.S.” that will likely minimize impacts to private property and lower compliance costs to businesses.
“This is the first step in the two-step process to redefine ‘waters of the U.S.’ and we are committed to moving through this re-evaluation to quickly provide regulatory certainty, in a way that is thoughtful, transparent and collaborative with other agencies and the public,” Pruitt said.
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