Seth Perlman / AP
Large amounts of wetlands and thousands of miles of US waterways UU They would no longer be protected by the Clean Water Act at the federal level under a new proposal from the Trump administration.
The proposal, announced and signed Tuesday at the Environmental Protection Agency, would change EPA's definition of "United States waters" or WOTUS, limiting the types of waterways that are under federal protection to major waterways, their tributaries, adjacent wetlands and some other categories
The goal of this change is to "provide states and landowners with the certainty they need to manage their natural resources and grow local economies," said Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler.
Wheeler said the simpler approach would allow farmers, for example, to decide which water on their property is subject to federal regulations without paying thousands of dollars to consultants and engineers. He said it will also allow them and others to avoid expensive and time-consuming permits for a regulation of the Obama era that he called "seizing power."
The proposed change contrasts with the definition presented by the Obama administration in 2015, which sought to expand federal drinking water protections to include not only large waterways, but also the smaller streams and tributaries that feed on them. For years, Republican opponents, agriculture groups and property developers have denounced that measure as a regulatory excess.
As a candidate and president, Donald Trump painted the Obama era government in a similar light, calling it "one of the worst examples of federal regulation" and making its revocation and revision a priority for his administration.
Dave Ross, of the EPA's water office, said that the water rule reduction will achieve the "careful balance" that Congress intended when it passed the Clean Water Act decades ago.
It is one of dozens of environmental regulations that the Trump government has tried to reduce or replace in an effort to boost the industry and the production of fossil fuels. The administration expects to finalize the rule next year, but environmental groups are already threatening legal challenges.
"This proposal is reckless," said Jon Devine of the Natural Resources Defense Council in a statement. "Given the problems facing our lakes, streams and wetlands from the beaches of Florida to the drinking water of Toledo, now is the time to strengthen protections for our waterways, not to weaken them."
One of the major points of discussion is the erasure of protections for ephemeral or intermittent waterways according to the new plan. Ephemeral streams only flow after precipitation, but they are an important part of the country's water systems.
A study referred by the EPA under Obama says that almost 60 percent of all US waterways. US, And 81 percent in the arid southwest, are ephemeral or flow by season, the types of waterways that would lose protections. In his announcement, the current interim administrator of the EPA, Wheeler, disputed those figures, saying that they could not be backed up.
By requesting a more accurate figure, officials say there is no map of all US waterways. UU With that information.
Millions of acres of wetlands would also be affected by the change. Under its proposal, EPA would only protect wetlands that are adjacent to or connected to major bodies of water by a body of surface water. Obama's rule was much more expansive.
Arguments over federal jurisdiction and definition of "US waters" They have been happening for decades.
Approved in 1972, a few years after the Cuyahoga River in Ohio literally burned down, the Clean Water Act aimed to maintain the "chemical, physical and biological integrity of the Nation's waters."
To this end, it largely prohibited the discharge of pollution in the "navigable waters" of the country.
Successive administrations, interest groups and the Supreme Court of the United States have been fighting for the definition of "navigable waters" and their scope since then.
The Obama administration adopted a broad definition, arguing that pollution upstream breaks down the river and, therefore, should be regulated.
The Trump administration proposes a more restrictive interpretation based on a 2006 opinion of the late Supreme Court judge, Antonin Scalia, who believed that the Clean Water Law only applied to relatively permanent waters. Other waterways and bodies, he argued, should be regulated by the states.
Both administrations cited the need for clarity and normative certainty when announcing their rules.
But with possible lawsuits and a public comment period of 60 days ahead, the administration's proposal is far from becoming law.