Skip Navigation

EPA Moves to Scrap WOTUS Rule

August 2, 2017

the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Department of the Army, and Army Corps of Engineers proposed a rule to rescind the controversial 2015 Waters of the United States rule.

The Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule is closer to being removed from the Federal Register after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Department of the Army, and Army Corps of Engineers proposed a rule to rescind the 2015 regulation defining which waterways and wetlands fall under the 1972 Clean Water Act and thus under federal government control.

In February, President Donald Trump signed the executive order “Restoring the Rule of Law, Federalism, and Economic Growth by Reviewing the ‘Waters of the United States’ Rule,” directing the agencies to review and revise what Trump called one of the worst examples of federal regulatory overreach.

“In one case in Wyoming, a rancher was fined $37,000 a day by the EPA for digging a small watering hole for his cattle. His land,” said Trump during his February 28 signing ceremony. “These abuses were, and are, why such incredible opposition to this rule from the hundreds of organizations took place in all 50 states. It’s a horrible, horrible rule.”

Trump was referring to Andy Johnson, who built a stock pond on his property in 2012, which EPA ordered him to remove or face fines of $37,500 per day for violating the Clean Water Act. The nonprofit Pacific Legal Foundation sued on Johnson’s behalf, and the EPA backed off in May 2016.

WOTUS opponents included 27 states and dozens of agricultural and business groups who sued the federal government to block the rule, saying it unconstitutionally expanded EPA’s reach over private property.

Ending ‘Executive Fiat’

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt says states should take the lead on water issues within their borders.

“EPA is restoring states’ important role in the regulation of water,” Pruitt said in a May 9 press release previewing the regulatory changes. “Like President Trump, I believe that we need to work with our state governments to understand what they think is the best way to protect their waters, and what actions they are already taking to do so.

“We want to return to a regulatory partnership, rather than regulate by executive fiat,” said Pruitt.

“We are taking significant action to return power to the states and provide regulatory certainty to our nation’s farmers and businesses,” Pruitt said in a June 27 statement when the new rule was offered. “This is the first step in the two-step process to redefine ‘waters of the U.S.’ and we are committed to moving through this reevaluation to quickly provide regulatory certainty, in a way that is thoughtful, transparent, and collaborative with other agencies and the public.”

‘Fantastic News’

Timothy Benson, a policy analyst at The Heartland Institute, publisher of Environment & Climate News, says WOTUS would have constituted a massive expansion of federal power, usurping states’ authority and undermining property rights.

“We are taking significant action to return power to the states and provide regulatory certainty to our nation’s farmers and businesses,” Pruitt said in a June 27 statement when the new rule was offered. “This is the first step in the two-step process to redefine ‘waters of the U.S.’ and we are committed to moving through this reevaluation to quickly provide regulatory certainty, in a way that is thoughtful, transparent, and collaborative with other agencies and the public.”

Kathy Hoekstra (kathy@kathyhoekstra.com) writes from Saginaw, Michigan.

Author
Kathy Hoekstra is the Regulatory Policy Reporter for Watchdog.org, writing about national and state regulatory issues.
khoekstra@watchdog.org