EPA to Block WOTUS Implementation

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt tells state ag directors he will sign order to block WOTUS. ( MGN Image )

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt plans to sign Jan. 31 a rule to block an Obama-era regulation defining the scope of the nation’s water quality law after it flew through White House review.

“I am actually signing that today,” Pruitt said at a meeting of state agricultural officials.

The White House Jan. 30 completed its review of the Environmental Protection Agency’s rule to postpone until 2020 the regulation, known as the Clean Water Rule or Waters of the U.S., after just five days of scrutiny.

“We are working very aggressively to finalize the rule and you should see some action quickly,” David Ross, EPA assistant administrator for water, told the gathering of state agriculture officials in Washington.

The EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have been racing to pause the Waters of the U.S. rule, also known as WOTUS, since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a nationwide ban on the regulation Jan. 22. The Supreme Court could issue its final order to enforce its decision as early as Feb. 15, which means the rule would take effect across most of the country. A district court has blocked the rule from taking effect in 14 states already.

The Obama-era rule attempted to clarify which waters and wetlands are protected by the Clean Water Act and are subject to regulatory regimes, including federal permits, oil spill prevention requirements, and state water quality certifications. It was opposed by several states, road builders, and agriculture groups.

The Trump administration pledged to rewrite and rescind the 2015 rule, which it said expands federal authority over local land-use decisions and imposes costly permitting burdens.

The EPA and corps in February plan to hold more consultations with state water, environmental, and agriculture officials to find out where they should draw the line on the geographic reach of the Clean Water Act, Ross said.

“How far up the watershed should we go? Where should we draw the line and why? Why does it matter?” Ross said.

He encouraged states to provide recommendations.

“My job is to listen and make sure we are asking the right questions so we can make the right decisions,” Ross said.

 
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