The Clean Water Rule: Repeal or Revise

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In February, the Trump administration issued an executive order to review the Clean Water Rule of 2015. The Clean Water Rule, also called “Waters of the United States,” regulates which bodies of water are Federally protected. These protected bodies of water are used for any variety of reasons: drinking, farming, industry, and recreation.

The initial purpose of the Clean Water Rule

The aim of the Clean Water Rule was to save time and reduce costs and confusion in regards to projects, permits, and legal issues, in regards to land and water. Simply, the rule defined the scope of waters protected by the EPA. This was to reduce discrepancy due to several convoluted Supereme Court decisions.

Revision or Repeal

The current administration wants to either revise or repeal the rule. Instead, the change to the rule would state that only “Relatively Permanent” waterways would be federally protected against pollution and usage. What defines relatively permanent? Justice Scalia suggested that the definition refers to water as found in “streams,” “oceans,” “rivers,” “lakes,” and “bodies” of water “forming geographical features.”

However, the rule is broader and based more on the opinion of Justice Kennedy. It protects wetlands and non-navigable waters if they are a significant connection to navigable waterways. If the physical, biological, and chemical integrity of the downstream waterway is affected, then the waterway is protected under the Clean Water Rule.

Opinions on the Rule

Many of the concerns in regards to the Clean Water Rule changes are due to opposition towards government over-regulation from ranch and farm communities. However, these oppositions were widely known during the creation of the rule in 2015 as well. Rather than a revision, many land-owners want a complete repeal of the rule. Ranchers and farmers feel they understand how to best protect and utilize the waterways on their land.

Conservation groups are opposed to the rollback of the rule because it would threaten species of fish and wildlife and create problems for hunters and fishers.

It is argued that some 117 million Americans obtain their drinking water from small streams. Without the protection of these streams, these American risk losing access to clean water. In 2017, not having access to clean drinking water is unacceptable.

What is next for the Rule?

The rejection and/or revision of the Clean Water Rule won’t occur overnight.

“Before the rule can be rescinded, there must be a review of the rule, a public comment period, and justification for repeal as demonstrated through law and scientific evidence.” –St. Louis American

This is a years-long process. It is difficult to know what bodies of water will be protected since the Trump administration has not released a statement of which bodies would or would not be affected. Currently, the administration has requested input from state governors to help form the revision before moving forward.

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