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WASHINGTON U.S. President Donald Trump signed an
order on Tuesday directing environmental regulators to review an
Obama-era rule that expanded the number of federally protected
waterways as the president targets regulations that
conservatives consider government overreach.
The executive order will kick off what could be a lengthy
process to undo the Waters of the United States or WOTUS rule,
finalized by the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S.
Army Corps of Engineers in 2015 to clarify which bodies of water
are covered by the Clean Water Act.
The act, passed in 1972 and last amended in 1987, is
intended to protect the nation’s waters from pollution.
Trump said during the signing that the act should apply
only to navigable waters that affect interstate commerce.
“A few years ago the EPA decided that navigable waters can
mean nearly every puddle or every ditch. It was a massive power
grab,” Trump said.
The rule has faced intense political and legal opposition
from states, including Ohio and North Dakota, Republican
lawmakers, farmers and energy companies. They say it would
plague small businesses with permitting costs and subject them
It was blocked in late 2015 by a federal appeals court
pending further court challenges. The order directs the Justice
Department to ask the court to put those challenges on hold as
the administration conducts its review, said a senior
administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Federal law requires that the administration undertake a
formal evaluation of the rule before a decision is made about
whether to rescind it, the official said, adding that the review
would likely take a “long time to get through.”
The EPA under former President Barack Obama said the rule
protected waters that are next to rivers and lakes and their
tributaries “because science shows that they impact downstream
Senator Tom Carper of Delaware, the top Democrat on the
Senate environment committee, said Trump’s order put the
country’s streams and wetlands at risk of pollution.
“The only thing today’s executive order makes clear is that
clean water is not a priority for the Trump administration,”
FIGHT IN THE COURTS
Opponents of the rule have said it vastly expands federal
authority over areas under state control and could jeopardize
private property rights and cover mining sites never before
subject to federal clean water law.
But their legal challenges have been bogged down by a fight
over which court should properly hear the case. An appeals court
in Cincinnati said it has jurisdiction to hear the matter, while
the rule’s opponents want challenges to move forward in district
The U.S. Supreme Court in January agreed to sort out where
the case would proceed, in an appeal filed by the National
Association of Manufacturers. (Additional reporting by Lawrence Hurley and Andrew Chung)
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