United States Environmental Protection Agency Narrows Protections for Clean Water

The United States Environmental Protection Agency has announced the repeal of the regulation defining the “waters of the United States.”  In doing so, it has removed protection for millions of miles of streams and many wetlands.  The streams affected are largely headwater streams or streams which do not have water in them year round.  Repealing this definition clears the way for a new rule which will provide less protection.

            The federal Clean Water Act requires protection of the “waters of the United States.”  While everybody agrees that major waterways are protected, there has always been some dispute over how far the protection extends.  In 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency did extensive rulemaking and came up with a rule that protected headwater streams and all wetlands that are connected to streams.

            This action repeals the 2015 rule and makes way for a narrower definition of “waters of the United States.” The West Virginia Highlands Conservancy opposed these changes and filed public comments, as did thousands of others.

            For a more extensive version of this history, see the January, 2019, and May, 2019, issues of The Highlands Voice.

            Many of the initiatives of any administration are undertaken without direct involvement by the President.  With cabinet appointments the President sets the direction but he may have little direct role in the details of policy.

            The waters of the United States rule is an exception.  Mr. Trump occasionally campaigned against the 2015 version of the rule.  Soon after his election he signed an executive order that it be repealed, complete with a signing ceremony and an assurance that this action would “create millions of jobs, so many jobs are delayed for so many years.”  Even as the Environmental Protection Agency solicited public comments, went through the motions of listening to the public, etc. its fate was sealed.

            Every other change to the definition of “waters of the United States” in the past few years has resulted in litigation.  There is no reason to believe that this time will be any different.  Stay tuned.