Trump Admin Reverses Obama-Era ‘Wetlands’ Grab of Ditches, Potholes

Policy change ‘puts an end to an egregious power grab, eliminates an ongoing patchwork of clean water regulations…’

Trump Admin Reverses Obama-Era 'Wetlands' Grab of Ditches, Potholes

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler / AP Photo: Patrick Semansky

(Liberty Headlines) The Trump administration on Thursday revoked an overreaching Obama-era regulation on so-called wetlands that developers and farmers said hurt economic development and infringed on property rights.

The Clean Water Act requires landowners to obtain federal permits before developing or polluting navigable “waterways.”

But the 2015 Waters of the United States rule defined the waterways subject to federal regulation in such a way as to exert control over canals and ditches that don’t have a direct connection to larger waters and flow only during and after rainfall.

Scrapping it “puts an end to an egregious power grab, eliminates an ongoing patchwork of clean water regulations and restores a longstanding and familiar regulatory framework,” Environmental Protection Agency chief Andrew Wheeler said at a news conference in Washington, D.C.


Wheeler and R.D. James, assistant secretary of the Army for civil works, signed a document overturning the rule and temporarily restoring an earlier regulatory system that emerged after a 2006 ruling from a sharply divided Supreme Court.

Sen. John Barrasso, a Wyoming Republican and chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, applauded the Trump administration move, saying the Obama rule “would have put backyard ponds, puddles and prairie potholes under Washington’s control.”

The agencies plan to adopt a new rule by the end of the year that has a more restrictive definition of protected wetlands and streams.

Wheeler said regulators had gone far beyond the intent of Congress under the 1972 clean water law.

“The 2015 rule meant that more businesses and landowners across the U.S. would need to obtain a federal permit to exercise control over their own property, a process that can cost tens of thousands of dollars and take months or even years to complete,” he said. “It also put more local land-use decisions in the hands of unelected bureaucrats. Many Americans balked at this idea, and rightfully so.”

Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, said the 2015 rule had generated a greater sense of urgency among its membership than any other issue.

“When you take the private property rights from a man that’s worked all his life … to grow the food and fiber for all of us to sit down and enjoy three times a day, it’s something he just can’t stand,” Duvall said.

Legal Challenges

Trump Admin Reverses Obama-Era 'Wetlands' Grab of Ditches, Potholes 1

A puddle blocks a path that leads into the Panther Island Mitigation Bank near Naples, Fla. / AP Photo: Brynn Anderson

The question of which waters are covered under the Clean Water Act has inspired decades of lawsuits and numerous bills in Congress.

The Supreme Court in 2006 produced three differing opinions, leading the Obama administration to craft its rule. It provided federal oversight to upstream tributaries and headwaters, including wetlands, ponds, lakes and streams that can affect the quality of navigable waters.

The regulation drew quick legal challenges from 31 states and court rulings blocking its implementation in some. It was effective in 22 states, Washington, D.C., and U.S. territories before Thursday’s action.

Trump had attempted to reverse the policy in his first year in office but was met with obstructions last year from activist federal courts that placed an injunction on the rollback.

The Natural Resources Defense Council said the administration’s action would again be challenged in court.

“The Clean Water Rule represented solid science and smart public policy,” the group said in a statement. “Where it has been enforced, it has protected important waterways and wetlands, providing certainty to all stakeholders.”

Environmentalists contend many of those smaller, seemingly isolated waters are tributaries of the larger waterways and can have a significant effect on their quality. Denying them federal protection would leave millions of Americans with less safe drinking water and allow damage of wetlands that prevent flooding, filter pollutants and provide habitat for a multitude of fish, waterfowl and other wildlife, they said.

“By repealing the Clean Water Rule, this administration is opening our iconic waterways to a flood of pollution,” said Bart Johnsen-Harris of Environment America. “The EPA is abdicating its mission to protect our environment and our health.”

Drawn from additional reporting by the Associated Press.