Clean Water Rule on Trump's Next Chopping Block

by | February 28, 2017

By Jennifer A. Dlouhy and Justin Sink

President Donald Trump will order his administration to rescind and rewrite an Obama-era environmental rule that critics say gave the U.S. government too much power to regulate waterways nationwide, according to a senior White House official.

Trump is set to sign a directive on Tuesday compelling the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency to review and reconsider the 2015 "Waters of the U.S." rule, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the document before its release. The Trump administration also will ask a federal court to halt consideration of a lawsuit from dozens of states and an assortment of businesses and agricultural groups challenging the rule while the measure is being reviewed.

Trump's decision sets in motion a slow-moving regulatory process aimed at rewriting the rule over the next several years.

It also helps deliver on his campaign pledge to rescind the measure critics said unfairly expanded the EPA's Clean Water Act jurisdiction to include dry creek beds, prairie wetlands and other territory far beyond the "navigable waters" subject to oversight under federal law.

The move is the first of several environmental directives expected from the Trump administration in coming days. Another document aims to dismantle the Clean Power Plan, former President Barack Obama's signature plan for combating climate change by slashing greenhouse gas emissions tied to the generation of electricity. Newly installed EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt also said he wants to go after a rule imposed last year that limits methane emissions from new and modified oil and gas wells.

In imposing the Waters of the U.S. rule, the Obama administration's EPA aimed to resolve decades of uncertainty over what waterways were subject to federal regulation and oversight. In 2006, the U.S. Supreme Court fractured over the question of whether strictly navigable waters are subject to the Clean Water Act, or if the jurisdiction goes further. Developers said later guidance from the EPA only injected more confusion into permitting processes.

Obama's Waters of the U.S. rule was opposed by dozens of states and an assortment of business and agriculture groups, which complained it did nothing to clear up the murkiness and took an overly expansive view of the law.

Rewriting the measure will take significant time. It took at least two years for the Obama administration to write the measure; it could take just as long for the Trump administration to rewrite it.

(c)2017 Bloomberg News