EPA announces new definition of waters protected under Clean Water Act

The EPA announced plans to change the definition of which waters in the United States are protected under th...

Posted: Dec 12, 2018 6:55 AM
Updated: Dec 12, 2018 6:55 AM

The EPA announced plans to change the definition of which waters in the United States are protected under the Clean Water Act on Tuesday -- a change President Donald Trump has been working toward since the beginning of his administration.

The new rule divides US waters into six categories: traditional navigable waters, tributaries to those navigable waters, certain ditches -- including those used for navigation or affected by the tide, certain lakes and ponds, impoundments and wetlands that are adjacent to water covered by the rule.

Barack Obama

Continents and regions

Donald Trump

Environment and natural resources

Environmental Protection Agency

Environmental regulation and policy

Government and public administration

Government bodies and offices

Government organizations - US

Natural resources management

North America

Political Figures - US

Politics

The Americas

United States

US federal departments and agencies

US federal government

US government independent agencies

Water quality

Water resources management

White House

Business and industry sectors

Business, economy and trade

Energy and utilities

Lakes and waterways

Transportation and warehousing

Transportation infrastructure

Utilities industry

Water and wastewater management

The proposal excludes groundwater; ditches, including roadside and farm ditches; prior converted cropland; stormwater control features and wastewater and waste treatment systems. These waters will no longer be regulated by the federal government under the act.

Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler signed the rule on Tuesday at an event at the agency's headquarters. Army and EPA staff attended the event along with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and a handful of senators and representatives. Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Iowa Republican Sen. Joni Ernst spoke after the rule signing.

Wheeler told reporters the goal of the new rule was to make it "clearer and easier to understand." He said the rule "will result in significant cost savings" while protecting the nation's waterways and reducing "barriers to important economic and environmental projects."

The proposed rule is a policy shift from former President Barack Obama's 2015 waters of the U.S. regulation. Obama's rule changed the definition of what bodies of water the federal government had authority over to include streams and wetlands so that the government could ensure that those waterways remained pollution free. It changed the definition from the initial one established by the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers in the 1980s.

Environmental groups said the new definition protects fewer small waterways and that could result in more pollution and put people at risk.

"We need more protections, not less, when it comes to clean water," said Theresa Pierno, president and CEO of the National Parks Conservation Association, in a statement. "The proposed rule will take us back five decades in our effort to clean up our waterways. In fact, the administration's rule will actually pave the way for pollution that threatens our drinking water and national park waterways."

The policy change is favored by manufacturers and farmers. Almost every senator and representative who spoke mentioned farmers in their remarks. Critics of Obama's 2015 rule, which included some in the farming community, complained that his policy restricted how they could use their land and had a negative economic impact on their business.

National Association of Manufacturers President and CEO Jay Timmons, who attended the event, said the new policy was a "positive step forward for manufacturers" in a statement.

"The uncertainty created by the overreaching and unfair 2015 WOTUS rule threatened manufacturing jobs, and it failed to protect clean water adequately," Timmons said in the statement. "Smart water policy is critical for all of us, and manufacturers are committed to keeping our promise to use the certainty we have been given to do our part to make our water and air cleaner — and our environment healthier. After all, the earth is the only home we have."

Obama's regulation and the new proposed rule both fall under the Clean Water Act, which regulates discharges of pollutants into waters in the US. Under the Clean Water Act, it's illegal to discharge pollutants from a source into "navigable waters," according to the EPA.

The EPA has been working toward a replacement of the regulation since Trump took office. In February 2017, less than two months after his inauguration, Trump signed an executive order asking the EPA and the Department of the Army to review Obama-era water regulations and make sure they are not harming the economy.

The EPA's announcement is another step toward Trump fulfilling a campaign promise. At a campaign event at the Economic Club of New York in September 2016, Trump said he would repeal both the Clean Power Plan and the Waters of the United States rule.

"I will eliminate all needless and job killing regulations now on the books, and there are plenty of them," Trump said. "This includes eliminating some of our most intrusive regulations like the Waters of the US Rule. It also means scrapping the EPA's so-called Clean Power Plan, which the government itself estimates will cost $7.2 billion a year."

A few months after Trump's executive order, in July 2017, the EPA issued a proposed action to repeal the 2015 rule and opened a public comment period through August 2018. On February 6, the Trump administration published a rule in the Federal Register that delayed the rule until 2020 and reverted the Waters of the United States interpretation back to the definition applied in the 1980s, according to court documents.

Several environmental groups sued the federal government through a district court in South Carolina, arguing that the EPA and Department of the Army's repeal of the regulation violated the Administrative Procedures Act by not having a public comment period. The act governs how federal agencies implement and alter regulations.

A federal district court judge sided with environmentalists and issued an injunction nationwide, effectively putting Obama's rule back in place in 22 states, the District of Columbia and US territories, according to the EPA.

Wheeler said the new proposed rule would restore "rule of law" and "end years of uncertainty."

There will be a 60-day comment period, according to the EPA. The agency plans to hold a public hearing and other regional listening sessions before the rule goes into effect.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 15752

Reported Deaths: 739
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds100625
Lauderdale73862
Madison72423
Scott65012
Neshoba64639
Jones62928
Forrest56438
DeSoto5427
Rankin4398
Holmes42928
Leake42712
Copiah3124
Jackson30813
Attala29817
Yazoo2814
Newton2714
Leflore26431
Lincoln26329
Harrison2587
Monroe25725
Oktibbeha23912
Lamar2385
Lowndes2119
Pearl River20931
Wayne2041
Pike20311
Adams19915
Noxubee1866
Washington1787
Warren17310
Covington1652
Jasper1634
Bolivar16211
Lee1536
Smith15211
Kemper14411
Clarke14418
Lafayette1364
Chickasaw13512
Coahoma1254
Carroll11711
Winston1171
Marion1159
Clay1124
Claiborne1112
Lawrence1021
Simpson1010
Tate941
Grenada943
Yalobusha935
Hancock9111
Wilkinson889
Itawamba877
Montgomery851
Sunflower843
Union835
Marshall833
Jefferson Davis773
Tippah7311
Panola713
Webster692
Calhoun654
Amite641
Humphreys607
Walthall560
Tunica553
Prentiss533
Perry503
Choctaw432
Jefferson421
Pontotoc353
Quitman330
Tishomingo320
Stone300
Franklin292
Tallahatchie271
George251
Alcorn171
Benton150
Greene131
Sharkey70
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 18075

Reported Deaths: 644
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Mobile2239116
Jefferson1837102
Montgomery171040
Tuscaloosa78315
Marshall6939
Franklin5567
Lee54833
Shelby51720
Tallapoosa42765
Butler41118
Chambers35525
Walker3542
Elmore3548
Madison3394
Baldwin2909
Morgan2801
Dallas2723
Etowah25711
DeKalb2483
Lowndes24612
Coffee2361
Sumter2247
Autauga2214
Houston2204
Bullock2095
Pike2030
Colbert1842
Hale1739
Russell1710
Marengo1706
Barbour1671
Lauderdale1642
Calhoun1603
Choctaw1538
Wilcox1487
Clarke1442
Cullman1430
Randolph1277
St. Clair1231
Marion12211
Pickens1164
Dale1150
Talladega1135
Limestone1060
Chilton1011
Greene944
Winston900
Macon824
Henry802
Covington801
Jackson782
Crenshaw753
Bibb751
Washington706
Escambia633
Blount621
Lawrence500
Geneva430
Conecuh411
Coosa401
Monroe402
Perry390
Cherokee373
Clay272
Lamar260
Fayette160
Cleburne151
Unassigned00
Tupelo
Clear
85° wxIcon
Hi: 85° Lo: 64°
Feels Like: 85°
Columbus
Clear
82° wxIcon
Hi: 88° Lo: 68°
Feels Like: 82°
Oxford
Clear
81° wxIcon
Hi: 83° Lo: 61°
Feels Like: 81°
Starkville
Clear
81° wxIcon
Hi: 86° Lo: 62°
Feels Like: 81°
WTVA Radar
WTVA Temperatures
WTVA Severe Weather