The Biden administration announced June 9 it will redefine “waters of the United States,” claiming the Trump administration’s rule left streams unprotected, particularly in the arid Southwest.
The Environmental Protection Agency said it won’t return to the 2015 Obama administration’s WOTUS definition, but will revert to the pre-Obama rule and then write a new one.
The American Farm Bureau and some Western congressmen criticized dropping the 2020 Trump rule. The reversal had been expected since the election. On his first day in office, President Biden ordered the EPA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to review the rule with an eye toward rescinding it.
“Just as predicted, the Biden administration announced its intent to dismantle the Navigable Waters Protection Rule — a move that threatens the livelihoods of many in rural America,” U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., said in a statement.
The federal Clean Water Act regulates the discharge of pollutants into navigable waterways. WOTUS defines a navigable waterway.
Farm groups complained the Obama rule extended federal jurisdiction to pastures, fields and ditches that were dry most of the year. Environmentalists supported the Obama rule and opposed the Trump rule.
American Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall said the Trump rule was environmentally conscious and clear. “Today’s announcement fails to recognize the concerns of farmers and ranchers,” he said in a statement.
Duvall called on EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan to not return to the “regulatory land grab that was the 2015 WOTUS rule.”
“He must keep his word to recognize the efforts of agriculture and not return to flawed, overly complicated and excessive regulations,” Duvall said.
Biden inherited several lawsuits challenging the Trump rule. The Biden administration said it will ask courts to remand the rule to the EPA and Army corps.
Regan said in statement the rule was “leading to significant environmental degradation.”
The lack of protection was particularly significant in arid states, such as New Mexico and Arizona, according to a join statement from the EPA and Corps.
The Clean Water Act’s scope has become a partisan issue, subject to rewrites after presidential elections.
Farms groups and red states sued to overturn the Obama rule. Conflicting rulings left roughly half the states under the Obama rule and half under the pre-Obama standard.