The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), now headed by Scott Pruitt, an outspoken foe of environmentally friendly measures, signed a proposal last week to repeal a 2015 rule intended to protect the nation’s waterways.
The Clean Water Rule was adopted by the EPA and the U.S. Army Corp. of Engineers to combat the rising tide of pollution entering larger rivers and other navigable bodies of water via intermittent streams, ponds, and other waterways.
The rule, which is often called the “Waters of the U.S.” or WOTUS rule, was stayed in court before it ever took effect due to legal challenges filed by Mr. Pruitt when he was serving as Oklahoma’s attorney general, and other state officials who claimed the rule would financially harm businesses.
Republicans opposing the rule disputed the interpretation of waterways that the federal government could regulate, claiming that it gave the EPA broad oversight of “puddles” and “ditches.”
In February, Donald Trump issued an executive order for the EPA to review the Clean Water Rule, but the agency’s new leadership already had the WOTUS in its crosshairs, regardless of any determinations a review would make.
While the rule’s rollback was widely praised by the agricultural and energy industries, environmental organizations condemned the move.
“This foolish rollback of clean water standards rejects years of work building stakeholder input and scientific data support, and it imperils the progress for safe clean drinking water in the Midwest,” said Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, according to Reuters.
Kierán Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity, said the rollback would expose ecologically sensitive areas of the U.S. to environmental degradation. “Revoking the clean water rule will open the door to the pollution and bulldozing of some of America’s most important wetlands,” he said.