The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Army Corps of Engineers are moving forward to finalize the death of a rule meant to protect more bodies of water under the Clean Water Act.
The Waters of the United States—or WOTUS—Rule defines what waters the Clean Water Act covers. Former President Barack Obama expanded the definition in 2015 to include smaller waterways, such as roadside ditches and wetlands, that ultimately connect to larger ones under federal protections. Barely two months after moving into the White House, however, President Donald Trump signed an executive order directing federal agencies to revise the rule. By December, the agencies came through with their new proposal. But on Thursday, the New York Times reported that they’re finalizing a separate proposal to repeal the rule outright.
Obama updated WOTUS to prevent pollution from reaching surface water, groundwater, and, well, drinking water. The private sector responded with litigation: The American Farm Bureau Federation, for instance, sued the federal government (along with a number of state governments) for Obama’s 2015 changes, arguing that the rule went too far in the power it grants federal agencies. However, farmers didn’t have much to worry with the new rule, Betsy Southerland, a former director of science and technology at the EPA’s Office of Water, told Earther. The industries WOTUS actually targeted were the oil and gas, mining, and development sectors since they’re largely the ones building infrastructure through wetlands or draining them outright.
“The victors in this are the land developers, miners, and oil and gas facilities who will benefit by this repeal,” Southerland said. “Farmers were not affected by the 2015 rule, and they are not going to be affected by the repeal of the 2015 rule.”
Some 22 states were previously covered under WOTUS due to court orders in the rest of the U.S. from ongoing litigation. With this latest move from the Trump administration, no state is protected under the 2015 rule.
Now, oil or gas—or any pollutant, for that matter—can more easily and legally reach these waterways. Advocates argue that’s a threat to drinking water. Previous Trump administration efforts show that it doesn’t care much for protecting drinking water or the environment, though. The administration has deregulated protections on coal ash, a byproduct of coal production that threatens drinking water, as well as committed to pushing through oil and gas pipelines even if local communities and governments don’t agree.
But if the administration never stops, neither will those that oppose him. Southerland is sure this final rule will result in lawsuits. Trump’s environmental deregulatory actions always do.