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EPA Delays Obama’s WOTUS Rule Until 2020 While It Writes Its Own Version
President Trump set out to erase the Obama-era Waters of the United States rule in his first weeks in office. Now the EPA has finalized an action that should keep the clean water rule from ever taking effect. Administrator Scott Pruitt has officially set the effective date of the so-called WOTUS rule for early 2020, long after the administration expects its replacement version to be in place.
Farm groups have been outspoken opponents of the WOTUS rule, which spells out the upstream reach of the clean water law, as regulatory overreach onto dry land and low spots in fields. The American Farm Bureau Federation ran a #DitchtheRule campaign on social media, which Trump indirectly mentioned at the group’s convention in early January. “We ditched the rule, I call it. We ditched the rule,” he said in touting his record on tax cuts and regulatory relief.
“Today, EPA is taking action to reduce confusion and provide certainty to America’s farmers and ranchers,” said Pruitt in 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 told senators this week that he anticipated the Trump administration’s substitute rule will be unveiled by April or May and will take effect by year’s end.
“Pruitt’s delay of the clean water rule is another galling attack on the clean water our families and communities depend on,” said the League of Conservation Voters. “Pruitt’s actions demonstrate just how scared the Trump administration is that these commonsense safeguards would go into effect and actually disprove their bogus apocalyptic claims.”
An estimated 117 million people, one third of Americans, get all or some of their drinking water from the small and nonperennial streams and wetlands at issue in WOTUS.
Farm Bureau president Zippy Duvall applauded the delay, saying “farmers value clear water … but they deserve clear rules, too.” Duvall said the Obama administration rule “would have put a stranglehold on ordinary farming and ranching by treating dry ditches, swales, and low spots on farm fields just like flowing waters. Without today’s action, countless farmers and ranchers, as well as other landowners and businesses, would risk lawsuits and huge penalties for activities as common and harmless as plowing a field.”
The Obama-era rule, which was issued in the summer of 2015, was immediately challenged in court and has been blocked by an appellate court order from taking effect. Last week, the Supreme Court ruled that district courts, rather an appeals courts, are the appropriate starting point for WOTUS lawsuits. The EPA said its two-year delay of the WOTUS rule “provides much-needed certainty and clarity to the regulated community during the ongoing regulatory process.”
At the moment, the EPA is reviewing comments on a proposal to rescind the 2015 rule, and it is developing its proposal for a new definition of upstream waters protected by the clean water law.
The EPA homepage for the WOTUS rule is available here.