EPA Withdrawal of “Waters of the US” Rule Provokes Strong Reactions

A Bay Journal blog article (2017-06-27) provided an update on the actions of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to withdraw the recent and much debated changes made to the definition of “Waters of the US” under the federal Clean Water Act. The definition will revert back to its form prior to the rule change, at least temporarily. The change was expected as President Donald Trump had previously issued an executive order instructing the EPA to rescind the rule.

The rule, which would have extended coverage of the Clean Waters Act to wetlands and certain intermittent flows, was supported by many environmental groups but opposed by agriculture and home builder groups. Based on concerns raised by both rural and urban counties, the National Association of Counties (NACo) had requested that the rule be withdrawn and revised. MACo had requested that the rule be amended to explicitly exclude storm drainage systems and ditches but despite verbal assurances from EPA that the rule change would not cover those structures, EPA refused to consider a clarifying amendment. The rule change never actually took effect as it was subject to a stay from the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit pending various legal challenges.

The American Farm Bureau Federation issued the following press release (2017-06-27) supporting the EPA’s move:

The following statement may be attributed to Zippy Duvall, president, American Farm Bureau Federation:

“Farmers and ranchers across this country are cheering EPA’s proposal today to ditch its flawed Waters of the U.S. rule. We know the importance of clean water, and farmers and ranchers work hard to protect our natural resources every day.

“But this rule was never really about clean water. It was a federal land grab designed to put a straightjacket on farming and private businesses across this nation. That’s why our federal courts blocked it from going into effect for the past two years. Today’s announcement shows EPA Administrator Pruitt recognizes the WOTUS rule for what it is—an illegal and dangerous mistake that needs to be corrected.

“Farm Bureau looks forward to supporting Administrator Pruitt’s proposal. EPA should ditch this rule once and for all, go back to the drawing board, and write a new rule that protects water quality without trampling the rights of businesses and the states.”

The Bay Journal blog article included strong criticism from environmental groups:

“The Clean Water Rule provides the clarity we need to protect clean water,” said Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Its repeal would make it easier for irresponsible developers and others to contaminate our waters and send the pollution downstream.” …

The status of more than half of the nation’s waterways are said to be at issue, including sources of drinking water for 177 million Americans, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. …

“Unbelievable hypocrisy,” said John Rumpler of Environment America. What, he asked, was the point of an environmental protection agency that was not going to protect the environment?

The Bay Journal blog article did note that some environmental groups were still analyzing what the actual effect of the withdrawal might be:

The impact of the rollback in the Bay watershed, though, is not clear.

“Fortunately, most of the Bay states have regulations to protect these waters,” noted Kim Coble, vice president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. “But that could change.”

Useful Links

Prior Conduit Street Coverage of Waters of the US Rule

Learn more about water quality and protection issues at the 2017 MACo Summer Conference, which will include panels on the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) and environmental justice.

Learn more about MACo’s Summer Conference: