The Environmental Protection Agency is dramatically reducing the amount of U.S. waterways that get federal protection under the Clean Water Act — a move that is welcomed by many farmers, builders and mining companies but is opposed even by the agency’s own science advisers, NPR reported.
EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, who announced the repeal of an earlier Obama-era waterrule in September, chose to make the long-anticipated announcement Thursday in Las Vegas, at the National Association of Home Builders International Builders’ Show.
“All states have their own protections for waters within their borders, and many regulate more broadly than the federal government,” Wheeler told reporters on a conference call before the announcement.
“Our new rule recognizes this relationship and strikes the proper balance between Washington, D.C., and the states,” he added. “And it clearly details which waters are subject to federal control under the Clean Water Act and, importantly, which waters falls solely under the states’ jurisdiction.”
The biggest change is a controversial move to roll back federal limits on pollution in wetlands and smaller waterways that were introduced less than five years ago by President Barack Obama.
The Obama executive action, which broadened the definition of “waters of the United States,” applied to about 60% of U.S. waterways. It aimed to bring clarity to decades of political and legal debate over which waters should qualify, NPR added.
However, various business interests painted the regulation as a massive federal overreach. Within weeks after the change was announced in May 2015, 27 states sued to block it. At the time, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a leading critic, called the new rule “so broad and open to interpretation that everything from ditches and dry creek beds to gullies to isolated ponds formed after a big rain could be considered a ‘water of the United States’.”