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Trump Administration Begins Repeal Of Clean Water Act

| by Robert Fowler

The Trump administration's Environmental Protection Agency is set to revoke former President Barack Obama's Water of the United States rule, also known as the Clean Water Rule. Revoking the rule will significantly reduce the agency's authority to regulate water bodies across the country.

On June 27, EPA administrator Scott Pruitt revealed during testimony before the Senate Appropriations Committee that his agency would revoke the Obama administration rule.

Pruitt asserted during his testimony that WOTUS "created a situation where farmers and ranchers, landowners across the country did not know whether their stream or dry creek bed, in some instances, was actually subject ... to EPA jurisdiction and EPA authority."

In 1972, both the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers were granted regulatory authority over the nation's water bodies under the Clean Water Act. Over the following decades, numerous court cases tussled over how much jurisdiction the EPA and Army Corps had under the law. In 2006, the Supreme Court split three ways over how many of the nation's water bodies the EPA could regulate, with Justice Anthony M. Kennedy offering a lone opinion that the agency could intervene on bodies that intersect with "navigable waters."

The late Justice Antonin Scalia had asserted in his written opinion that the Clean Water Act gave the EPA and Army Corps jurisdiction strictly over navigable waters.

In August 2015, the Obama administration implemented WOTUS to clarify how the scope of the EPA's authority, basing the rule on Kennedy's opinion. The rule made roughly 60 percent of U.S. water bodies open to regulation, expanding the EPA and Army Corps' jurisdiction to an additional 2 million miles of streams and 20 million acres of wetlands. The rule also drew fierce opposition from real estate developers and agricultural industries.

On Feb. 28, President Donald Trump signed an executive order directing the EPA to review and rescind WOTUS. His executive action ordered federal officials to regulate waters based on Scalia's opinion.

"A few years ago the EPA decided that navigable waters can mean nearly every puddle or every ditch on a farmer's land, or any place else they decide, right?" Trump said during the signing ceremony, according to The Washington Times. "It was a massive power grab."

The same day that Pruitt disclosed his agency's plans to rescind WOTUS, he released an official statement promising to further clarify EPA and Army Corps jurisdiction over the nation's water bodies.

"This is the first step in the two-step process to redefine 'waters of the U.S.' and we are committing to moving through this re-evaluation to quickly provide regulatory certainty, in a way that is thoughtful, transparent, collaborative with other agencies and the public."

Republican House Speaker Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin praised the decision with a statement.

"This regulation would have been a disaster for rural communities in the West and across the country, giving Washington near-total control over water resources," Ryan said of WOTUS, reports The Washington Post.

Meanwhile, Natural Resources Defense Council President Rhea Suh released a statement blasting the Trump administration's decision.

"This proposal strikes directly at public health," Suh said. "It would strip out needed protections for the streams that feed drinking water sources for one in every three Americans."

Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune vowed to push back against the Trump administration's repeal of WOTUS.

"It goes without saying that the Trump administration doesn't care about the environment, public health, or its duty to protect our most precious natural resources -- and that is why it's up to us, the American people, to hold them accountable," Brune said, reports ThinkProgress. "We will fight this and every other attempt by polluters and the Trump administration to destroy our water resources."

On June 28, Trump appointed Dennis Lee Forsgren as deputy assistant administrator of the EPA's Office of Water. Forsgren is a former attorney for the fossil fuel lobbying firm HBW Resources, The Intercept reports.

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