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Pruitt Says Dismissed Science Panelists Can Reapply, Expects New WOTUS Rule by 2018

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt said the members of a key scientific advisory panel he dismissed last week can reapply to the panel, and he believes that in some cases they could be reinstated.

Meanwhile, Pruitt said he expects the agency will have a new rule defining what constitutes Waters of the United States (WOTUS) by either the end of the year or 1Q2018.

Pruitt reportedly began the process of dismissing several members of the agency's Board of Scientific Counselors (BOSC) last Friday. But in a radio interview with Hugh Hewitt, Pruitt said "those same individuals can apply through the competitive process...

"These same individuals could very well be put back on the board. It's just simply a process to ensure that we have the type of representation, voices heard, so that we're informed as we do rulemaking."

Pruitt also disputed the notion that he fired the panelists. "There was no firing that took place," he said. "These individuals can apply -- will apply, I'm sure, in some instances -- and very well could be put back on the board. But it's the right thing to do to ensure transparency, its activity, peer-reviewed science and geographical representation on the board."

According to EPA's website, BOSC has approximately 20 members. Its mission is to advise EPA's Office of Research and Development on the technical and management issues related to its research programs.

Last March, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed a pair of bills, along partisan lines, to change how EPA conducts its research. Neither bill has been introduced in the Senate.

Process to rescind Clean Water Rule started

Pruitt said he met with about 20 governors during his first week at the helm of EPA to discuss various issues, including WOTUS.

"When you look at WOTUS, land use decisions have historically, legally and otherwise been the province of the states, localities and private property owners," Pruitt said. "The past administration just disregarded that and created a definition that literally transformed dry creek beds, puddles across this country under federal jurisdiction.

"We're changing all that, as we should. [We want to get] the definition right. But we're partnering with those at the state level, governors and those that use private property, to say how do we work together to regulate water as opposed to work against each other."

During the Obama administration, EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) jointly promulgated the Clean Water Rule (CWR) to define what waterbodies constitute WOTUS, and thereby deserve protection under the federal Clean Water Act. Last February, President Trump signed an executive order calling on EPA and USACE to review the CWR.

In a letter to state and local officials and various water associations about five weeks ago, Pruitt said EPA planned to initiate a two-step process over the CWR. He said EPA would first initiate a public rulemaking to rescind the rule and revert to laws governing water protection that were first enacted in 1986. The agency would then promulgate a revised definition of WOTUS. The first meetings were held in April.

"This federalism process that we're going through is very important," Pruitt said. "The comments we're receiving [will] help inform our decision. As far as the timing of the process, I anticipate and hope that by the end of the year or first quarter of 2018 that we'll have a final rule."

According to EPA, the currently 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 worry that it is so broad that it could be used to include ditches and ruts in dirt roads that captured rainwater.

Shortly before his confirmation as EPA administrator, Pruitt vowedto quickly withdraw the CWR. Trump has also derided the rule as an example of federal regulatory overreach.

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