WOTUS on notice after Trump executive order

Scrutiny of Obama-era waterway regulations is welcome news to farmers

Eamon Queeney—The North State Journal
The Haw River flows past the Chapel Hill Road bridge in the distance near the town of Bynum

WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Donald Trump signed a measure on Tuesday directing regulators to review an Obama administration regulation that expanded the number of federally protected waterways, a senior White House official said.

Trump’s order will also direct the Justice Department to ask a federal court to put legal challenges to the rule on hold as the administration conducts its review, the official said.

The order will kick off what will likely be a lengthy process to undo the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule, which was finalized by the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 2015 to clarify which bodies of water are covered by the Clean Water Act.

“President Trump’s executive order to ditch the Waters of the U.S. rule is a welcome relief to farmers and ranchers across the country today,” said American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall. “The flawed WOTUS rule has proven to be nothing more than a federal land grab, aimed at telling farmers and ranchers how to run their businesses. The Environmental Protection Agency failed to listen to farmers’ and ranchers’ concerns when drafting the rule and instead created widespread confusion for agriculture.”

The rule has faced intense political and legal opposition from Republicans lawmakers, farmers and energy companies. It was blocked by a federal appeals court pending further court challenges.

“The problem with the Obama administration WOTUS rule is that it vastly expands federal jurisdiction into state and local areas and land use decisions,” the official said. The official said that federal law requires that the administration undertake a formal evaluation of the rule before a decision is made about whether to rescind the regulation.

Calling the rule “very large and complex,” the official said the review would likely take a “long time to get through.” Critics contend the rule crafted by the Obama administration could apply to ditches and small isolated bodies of water.

N.C. is among 27 states currently suing over WOTUS in three separate suits calling it government overreach. N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein did not respond to questions by press time on whether the state will now withdraw from the lawsuit, particularly in light of Stein’s decision last week to pull N.C. from a lawsuit in protest of the Clean Energy Plan, another set of Obama-era environmental regulations.

WOTUS also has taken heat from the new EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt who recently told a conservative summit on Saturday that the regulation had “made puddles and dry creek beds across this country subject to the jurisdiction of Washington, D.C. That’s going to change.”

The EPA under President Barack Obama said the rule protects waters that are next to rivers and lakes and their tributaries “because science shows that they impact downstream waters.”

Dozens of agricultural groups, states and municipalities had sued to block the rule. The challengers contend the agencies’ change improperly expanded federal regulatory power.”

Farmers and ranchers have been calling for a common-sense approach to regulatory reform, and today the Trump administration responded to that call,” said Duvall. “EPA has too long been characterized by regulatory overreach that disregards the positive conservation efforts of farmers and threatens their very way of life.”