EPA repeals 2015 rule defining Waters of the United States

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler speaks to EPA staff in Washington in a file

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler speaks to EPA staff in Washington in a file

The rules is known as Water of the United States, or WOTUS.

The EPA chief unveiled the shift in US water policy Thursday during an event at the National Association of Manufacturers headquarters in Washington, D.C. Wheeler spoke alongside Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works R.D. James, who joined him in signing the repeal of the 2015 rule.

AFBF President Zippy Duvall said Farm Bureau will now "work to ensure a fair and reasonable substitute that protects our water and our ability to work and care for the land". Twenty-two states the District of Columbia and US territories follow the 2015 rule, while the rest follow guidance dating back to the Reagan administration.

The question of which waters are covered under the Clean Water Act has inspired decades of lawsuits and numerous bills in Congress.

Wheeler described the 2015 policy as "overreach" and said its next iteration will "provide greater regulatory certainty for farmers, landowners, home builders and developers nationwide".

"The 2015 rule meant that more businesses and landowners across the US would need to obtain a federal permit to exercise control over their own property, a process that can cost tens of thousands of dollars and take months or even years to complete", he said.

While it's unclear exactly what the new rule will say, environmental groups have panned the idea as a threat to the nation's waterways.

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"The Trump administration's wild-eyed tries to reward polluters", the Natural Means Defense Council's Jon Devine reported, "understands no bounds, so it is repealing these critical protections devoid of regard for the legislation or audio science". The Waters of the United States rule gave the EPA the power to place limits about the amount of pollution that was released near lakes, streams, and wetlands that connect to large waterways, which were protected under the 1972 Clean Water Act. Those rulings severely undermined federal protections for small streams, headwater streams and wetlands, threatening clean drinking water sources and rivers nationwide. In a subsequent final rule, expected by the end of 2019, the agencies will revise the definition of WOTUS yet again.

"We are really excited as this has been something we've wanted for quite some time", Kitty Block, president and chief executive, Humane Society of the United States, told The Times.

Zoom out: This is the Trump administration's 7th trim of water pollution regulations.

"This was nothing more than a giant power grab by the Obama Administration that had real and harmful consequences on America's hardworking farmers and small business owners", Congressman Collins said.

"Farmers share the goal of protecting the nation's water, but the 2015 Waters of the United States rule was unreasonable and unworkable", said New York Farm Bureau President David Fisher.

"There is literally a tidal wave of regulatory changes that are coming out of this administration now that are going to need to be challenged", Edwards said, "and we will be in court challenging them".

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