President Trump reportedly signed an executive order Tuesday instructing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Army Corps of Engineers to review the Clean Water Rule (CWR), which was designed by the Obama administration to clarify what constitutes Waters of the United States (WOTUS), thereby deserving protection under the Clean Water Act.
Trump's order would not repeal the CWR, but instead begins a review and rulemaking process likely to stretch out into 2018.
The WOTUS rule "was essentially a federal land grab," according to William Kovacs, senior vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has filed lawsuits against EPA and the Corps of Engineers seeking to set aside the rule. Businesses, farmers, and other land owners and managers will be happy to see it reconsidered and properly withdrawn, he said.
Environmental groups criticized the effort to eliminate the CWR.
"This executive order is about one thing: protecting polluters at the expense of our communities and their access to clean drinking water," said Madeleine Foote, legislative representative for the League of Conservation Voters. "Time and again, the public has demonstrated their support for the commonsense clean water protections outlined in the Clean Water Rule...Dismantling these clean water protections will put safe drinking water at risk without providing businesses the certainty and clarity they need while wasting taxpayer money on new, polluter-friendly regulation."
Controversy surrounded the CWR since it was unveiled by the Obama administration in May 2015. The rule was opposed from the start by the oil and gas industry, agricultural interests, manufacturers and their Republican allies in Congress. At the time, the EPA and the Army Corps called the rule an "historic step" to protect clean water from pollution and degradation in streams and wetlands throughout the nation that would more "precisely define" the protected waters. According to the EPA, the proposed WOTUS definition would include all territorial seas, interstate waters and wetlands and all waters that are currently being used -- or which were used in the past or which may be susceptible for use in interstate or foreign commerce -- including all waters subject to the ebb and flow of the tide. It also includes certain impoundments, tributaries and adjacent waters, including wetlands.
Opponents of the rule said it had been interpreted to include ditches and ruts in dirt roads that captured rainwater.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit issued a stay on the CWR in October 2015.
Trump has characterized the CWR as an example of federal regulatory overreach.
In a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), newly confirmed EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said heplanned to quickly withdraw two proposals formulated under the Obama administration: the CWR and the Clean Power Plan. Pruitt, in his previous capacity as attorney general of Oklahoma, had sued EPA over both proposals.
Since Trump's inauguration, Congress has turned to the Congressional Review Act to repeal other rules enacted during the Obama administration.