Since it was signed in May 2015, the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) definition in the Clean Water Rule (CWR) has garnered a lot of opposition. The rule was aimed at defining which waters are protected under the CWR so entities could protect them from pollution and destruction. This seems all well and good, especially when 117 million people’s drinking water sources are protected by the CWR.
However, the rule was far reaching as it redefined which streams, rivers and wetlands fall under the protective umbrella of CWR, and almost immediately there was legal backlash. The contention: Some of the bodies of water now protected by the new definition lie on private land, often agricultural, and landowners see the rule as overregulation. Additionally, land developers see it as another blockade to stymie their work, which is already slowed down by paperwork filed with several agencies, depending on location, before a project can break ground.
An appellate court put the rule on hold after more than 100 litigants in multiple suits challenged the rule, and those litigants received welcome news this week when President Donald Trump called on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to reconsider the rule.
The arguments on both sides of this rule make a great deal of sense. Protection of drinking water sources is paramount, and opponents of the rule have not argued against that. Instead, the issue seems to lie with how much control the federal government would have in regulating water on private property under the WOTUS definition.
But with the recent repeal of the Stream Protection Rule, mining companies now have the authority to dump wastewater into nearby streams and waterways. This trend toward deregulation has become more complicated. Wastewater from a mining property can run downstream to a neighboring property where it can seep into the ground and contaminate groundwater aquifers, which can be especially concerning for those with private wells.
While revisiting the rule may be beneficial, regulators should not lose sight of the consequences any changes could have, especially when it comes to the safety and security of drinking water sources.
What effect do you think revisiting of the rule will have on CWR? How do you think it could be changed to be better for everybody? Let us know in the comments below or send us an email at [email protected].