Jan 27, 2020

U.S. EPA Releases the Navigable Waters Protection Rule

The Trump administration changed Obama-era environmental protections for the country’s waterways.

drinking water

Updated 1/27/19

The U.S. EPA released the Navigable Waters Protection Rule, which will redefine how bodies of water are covered under the law previously under the Clean Water Act. The rule will not cover smaller ephemeral streams, wetlands that are not connected on the surface to larger bodies of water and storm water. It also will grant state governments additional control over regulating small bodies of water.

“After decades of landowners relying on expensive attorneys to determine what water on their land may or may not fall under federal regulations, our new Navigable Waters Protection Rule strikes the proper balance between Washington and the states in managing land and water resources while protecting our nation’s navigable waters,” said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler in a news release

The Navigable Waters Protection Rule will rescind Clean Water Act protections from many streams and wetlands by redefining which bodies of water are covered under the law, according to CNN

In a draft letter posted online late in December, the EPA Science Advisory Board, largely made up of Trump administration appointees, said the revised definition rule "decreases protection for our Nation's waters and does not support the objective of restoring and maintaining 'the chemical, physical and biological integrity' of these waters."

The rule will not cover smaller ephemeral streams, which make up a large part of the waters in New Mexico, according to Rachel Conn of Amigos Bravos, a New Mexico-based conservation group which focuses on water issues. 

"But they all drain into our bigger systems," said Conn. "And it is from these bigger systems that close to 300,000 New Mexicans receive their drinking water."

In September 2019, the administration repealed the 2015 Waters of the United States (WOTUS) regulation, established under the Barrack Obama Administration, which is a set of rules restricting dumping and development affecting rivers, streams, and wetlands. Now, the Trump administration is finalizing its own set of water rules that will allow for pesticides and fertilizers to be dumped in waterways and open up wetlands to new development, reported Slate.

“I terminated one of the most ridiculous regulations of all: the last administration’s disastrous Waters of the United States rule,” said Trump during a speech at the American Farm Bureau Federation’s annual convention in Texas. “That was a rule that basically took your property away from you.” 

The rule means state governments will be in greater control of regulating small bodies of water, but many states have not developed regulations and rely on federal rules, according to CNN.

Legal experts believe the rule would also eliminate protections to smaller headwaters that have been implemented for decades under the 1972 Clean Water Act, according to the New York Times

Several state attorneys general are expected to join with environmental groups to sue to overturn the Trump water rule, and those groups are likely to cite those findings as evidence that the rule is not legally sound, reported the New York Times.

"It's frankly very dangerous at a time when we're seeing water infrastructure failing us, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in water, increases in flooding from climate change, and decreases in water in the arid West," said Dalal Aboulhosn, the Sierra Club’s deputy legislative director. "The last thing we should be doing is destroying the resources that we have and we should be making sure that they're protected."

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