The Trump administration announced on Thursday that it will move rapidly to eliminate Obama-era clean-water regulations, re-setting them to 1986 standards.
The regulations, imposed in 2015 as the Waters of the United States rule, “placed limits on polluting chemicals that could be used near streams, wetlands and water bodies,” reports the New York Times.
“Weakening the Obama-era water rule had been a central campaign pledge for Mr. Trump, who characterized it as a federal land-grab that impinged on the rights of farmers, rural landowners and real estate developers to use their property as they see fit,” the Times says.
In an interview with the Washington Post, Environmental Protection Agency chief Andrew Wheeler characterized them as answering the “need to have a uniform regulatory approach” instead of the current “patchwork” system. He added that his agency will issue “a new definition” of which bodies of water deserve federal protection.
Environmentalists and other critics pounced on the administration’s action, warning that it will threaten the nation’s drinking water supply and encourage draining of vital wetlands and river headwaters.
“Americans drained about half of the 220 million acres of wetlands in the contiguous United States between the 1780s and 1980s, most of it to expand farmland. That rate began to slow after George H.W. Bush took office, pledging to stem the tide of wetlands loss,” the Post says.
“The decision is a clear gift to the industrial polluters who loudly protested the regulation in 2015 and to GOP lawmakers who have falsely claimed the rule regulates ‘puddles on private property.’ In fact, it protects important waters, including streams that feed the drinking water supply of one in three Americans,” said the Natural Resources Defense Council in an online statement.
The rule being eliminated “was designed to limit pollution in about 60 percent of the nation’s bodies of water, protecting sources of drinking water for about one-third of the United States,” the Times says. “It extended existing federal authority to limit pollution in large bodies of water, like the Chesapeake Bay and Puget Sound” as well as tributaries and streams, along with wetlands that protect coastal areas and are natural wildlife reserves.
“Under the rule, farmers using land near streams and wetlands were restricted from doing certain kinds of plowing and from planting certain crops, and would have been required to obtain EPA permits in order to use chemical pesticides and fertilizers that could have run off into those bodies of water. Those restrictions will now be lifted,” the Times says.
“Clearly the administration is intent on rolling back as many protections as it can before January of 2021,” Robert Irvin, president of American Rivers, told the Post. “Like any rushed efforts, they are likely to make mistakes that will be challenged and overturned in court.”
In addition, lawyers cited by the Times say the time between today’s announcement and the advent of the new Trump rule “could be one of regulatory chaos for farmers and landowners.”