(From The Associated Press, and media statements)
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump signed an executive order Feb. 28 mandating a review of an Obama-era rule aimed at protecting small streams and wetlands from development and pollution, fulfilling a campaign promise while drawing criticism from environmental groups.
The order instructs the Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers to review a rule that redefined “waters of the United States” protected under the Clean Water Act to include smaller creeks and wetlands.
Rescind or revise
The order asks the heads of the agencies to publish a proposed rule rescinding or revising the waters rule, for public notice and comment — the first step in what is likely to be a yearslong administrative review process that could end up at the Supreme Court.
Learn more: The executive order can be viewed here.
Farmers and landowners have criticized the rule, saying there are already too many government regulations that affect how they farm, and Republicans have been working to thwart it since its inception.
But Democrats have argued that it safeguards drinking water for millions of Americans and clarifies confusion about which streams, tributaries and wetlands should be protected in the wake of decades-long uncertainty despite two Supreme Court rulings.
Despite the outcry over the rule, it has never taken effect because of lawsuits filed by Republican attorneys general and large agriculture companies. Environmental groups such as the Sierra Club have said they will sue to fight any attempt by the Trump administration to roll back the rule.
Trump was welcomed to the signing ceremony by applause from a group of farmers, home builders, county commissioners and lawmakers he’d invited to the White House for the occasion. He was also joined by newly-confirmed EPA chief, Scott Pruitt.
Pruitt, the former Attorney General of Oklahoma, joined with more than two dozen other states in suing EPA over the water rule. The case is still pending.
Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, said in a statement, the measure “is a welcome relief to farmers and ranchers across the country.”
The Farm Bureau was one of the leading opponents to the rule, through its “Ditch The Rule” campaign. The Farm Bureau argued the rule would cause almost any body of water, including puddles and small ditches, to be regulated, while the EPA insisted they would not, and that “normal farming practices” would be unaffected.
“The Environmental Protection Agency failed to listen to farmers’ and ranchers’ concerns when drafting the rule and instead created widespread confusion for agriculture,” said Duvall. “Under the rule, the smallest pond or ditch could be declared a federal waterway.”
Craig Uden, the president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, said in a statement that the rule represents one of the “largest federal land grabs and private-property infringements in American history.”
It “should be taken out behind the barn and put out of its misery,” he said.
But former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said in a statement that the Trump administration was “putting our nation’s health, economy and our national security at increased risk.”
Madeleine Foote of the League of Conservation Voters said, “This executive order is about one thing: protecting polluters at the expense of our communities and their access to clean drinking water.”
(Associated Press Writers Jill Colvin and Michael Biesecker contributed to this report. ©2017 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
- Supreme court to hear waters of the U.S. case (Jan. 16, 2017).
- President vetoes Congressional attempt to repeal WOTUS (Jan. 21, 2016).