President Donald Trump signed an executive order in late February that ordered the EPA to review the WOTUS rules using Justice Antonin Scalia’s tighter interpretation of “navigable waters.”
But Tuesday’s action fully rescinds the Clean Water Act rule, and opens a new path for the agencies to rewrite regulations, along with new rulemaking public hearings and public comment.
"We are taking significant action to return power to the states and provide regulatory certainty to our nation's farmers and businesses," said EPA administrator Scott Pruitt. "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."
The announcement energized agricultural and cattle industry groups, which had feared the new rules would infuse more regulation on private land water use.
“This is another great step in the right direction, and the administration deserves a great deal of credit for injecting some much-needed common sense into our nation's environmental policies,” said Craig Uden, president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA). “It's important to remember, though, that this rule isn't dead yet. The rulemaking process continues, and NCBA will submit and solicit additional comments on behalf of America's cattle producers so that they finally get the sanity and clarity they need on land use policy.”
“The WOTUS rule was a misguided attempt to control private lands under the guise of clean water. Since 2015, when the rule was implemented, ranchers and private property advocates nationwide have fought to maintain their rights in the face of this overly burdensome federal regulation,” said Richard Thorpe, president of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association. “We applaud the EPA’s action to ensure ranchers can continue to provide America with a safe and affordable food supply.”
Obama’s WOTUS rules faced stiff opposition even before they went into effect, as agricultural and land-use groups targeted the measures’ expansion of federal jurisdiction and regulatory oversight. After going into effect in 2015, 32 states and 53 organizations filed briefs against the rules in federal courts. When the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a stay on the rules, other federal courts consolidated that finding to reverse them back to the prior rules, until the Supreme Court could weigh in.
The agencies, in a statement, said they have started “deliberations and outreach on the second step rulemaking involving a reevaluation and revision of the definition of ‘Waters of the United States’ in accordance with the executive order.”
“The Army, together with the Corps of Engineers, is committed to working closely with and supporting the EPA on these rulemakings. As we go through the rulemaking process, we will continue to make the implementation of the Clean Water Act Section 404 regulatory program as transparent as possible for the regulated public,” said Douglas Lamont, senior official performing the duties of the assistant secretary of the Army for Civil Works.
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