Jan 23, 2020

Trump administration set to remove protections for waterways

Red-winged Blackbird. attacking a Great Egret. Madrona Marsh Wetlands is a vernal freshwater marsh and is approximately 43 acres. Torrance, California
A red-winged blackbird and a great egret at Madrona Marsh Wetlands in Torrance, California. Photo: Citizen of the Planet/Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The Trump administration is set to unveil Thursday the final rules that scale back environmental protections for water bodies including streams and wetlands, the New York Times first reported.

Why it matters: This is one of the biggest environmental rollbacks by the Trump administration yet. Withdrawing and replacing the Obama-era rule that expanded protections has been a big priority for powerful industries such as the agricultural sector, real estate developers and fossil fuel producers, Axios' Ben Geman notes.

The big picture: It's the latest move in decades of regulatory and legal struggles over the reach of Clean Water Act protections. EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler announced the formal repeal of the wetlands regulations in September.

  • Per AP, a draft version of the replacement rule released previously would end protections for some waters that had been under Clean Water Act jurisdiction for decades.
  • President Trump has touted that farmers are set to benefit the most from the overhaul, according to AP, which notes farmers are "a highly valued constituency of the Republican Party and one popular with the public."
  • Trump signed an executive order soon after taking office to roll back the Obama-era EPA's Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule to regulate a vast array of minor streams and wetlands in a way that far exceeds what Congress allowed under the Clean Water Act.

What they're saying: The president told event-goers at the American Farm Bureau Federation convention Sunday the Obama administration's rule "basically took your property away from you" but he has "terminated one of the most ridiculous regulations of all," according to Courthouse News.

  • Karen Harbert, head of the American Gas Association, told the Times the new rules would "restore proper balance" between federal and state rules to enable safeguards without stifling infrastructure projects.

Worth noting: The overhaul comes despite objections from EPA scientific advisers, most of whom were Trump administration appointees, Politico notes. The advisers said last month the rollback was "in conflict with established science … and the objectives of the Clean Water Act."

The bottom line: Per Axios' Amy Harder: It's not unexpected but still politically significant. Obama's rule had been tied up in the courts — like this one will inevitably be as it's almost certain that the Trump rule will be litigated by environmental groups once finalized.

Go deeper: White House begins unwinding EPA clean water rule

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