@EPA delays implementation of Clean Water Rule #WOTUS

Colorado River headwaters tributary in Rocky Mountain National Park photo via Greg Hobbs.

From the Associated Press (Michael Biesecker) via The San Diego Union Tribune:

TThe Trump administration on Wednesday delayed implementation of an Obama-era clean water rule by another two years to give the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers more time to do away with it.

The move follows a Supreme Court ruling last week that said legal challenges to the Waters of the U.S. rule should be decided in federal district courts. That will result in the lifting of a stay issued by an appeals court blocking the 2015 rule from going into effect.

The rule expanded the definitions for wetlands and small waterways under the Clean Water Act — prompting opposition from agribusiness, mining and industry groups. The expansion was intended to reduce sources of pollution dumped in the small tributaries of larger lakes and rivers.

President Donald Trump issued an executive order nearly a year ago ordering a review of the WOTUS rule. By moving the effective date to 2020, the Trump administration buys itself more time to issue a replacement.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt routinely cites WOTUS as what he sees as regulatory overreach by the prior administration.

“EPA is taking action to reduce confusion and provide certainty to America’s farmers and ranchers,” Pruitt said Wednesday, according to a statement. “The 2015 WOTUS rule developed by the Obama administration will not be applicable for the next two years, while we work through the process of providing long-term regulatory certainty across all 50 states about what waters are subject to federal regulation.”

Pruitt’s fellow Republicans quickly praised the two-year delay.

“The Obama administration’s outrageous Waters of the United States rule would have put backyard ponds, puddles and farm fields under Washington’s control,” said Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, chairman of the Senate environment committee. “This delay gives the Trump administration time to revise this rule.”

Environmentalists predicted the rewrite will let polluters off the hook.

“The Trump administration is playing politics with our drinking water,” said Janette Brimmer, a lawyer with the legal advocacy group Earthjustice. “We need to protect the streams and wetlands that provide the drinking water of one in three Americans. This delay is an obvious attempt to make it easier for corporate interests to pollute our waterways.

Sheep Herders on the Uncompahgre Plateau back in the day

From The Deseret News (Amy Joi O’Donoghue):

Pruitt’s administration said it will rewrite the rule, which was adopted in 2015 and described as the most signficant overhaul to the Clean Water Act in more than 40 years. The two-year cooling off period will allow the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to once again revisit where they have jurisdictional oversight.

At the time of the rule’s adoption, federal regulators said it only clarified protections for seasonal waterways critical to downstream communities.

Critics, however, said that “clarification” extended the agencies’ regulatory authority to dry creek beds, drainage ditches and puddles.

In Utah in particular, critics feared intermittent or ephemeral drainages would be looped in under the rule.

Environmental groups and conservation organizations said the rule protected critical wetlands. Seven scientific organizations urged the Trump administration to leave the rule untouched.

But farmers and ranchers were adamant over a repeal or rewrite of the rule.

“We applaud the EPA and Army Corps for hitting the pause button while we search for added clarity and certainty for America’s farmers,” said Dennis Nuxoll in a statement released by the Western Growers, which represents local and regional farmers in multiple Western states.

The Utah Farm Bureau pushed for the rule’s demise, and the Utah Legislature in 2016 passed a resolution urging support for Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes’ efforts to have the courts vacate the new regulations.

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