WASHINGTON — The Trump administration on Thursday announced the repeal of a major Obama-era clean water regulation that had placed limits on polluting chemicals that could be used near streams, wetlands and other bodies of water.
The rollback of the 2015 measure, known as the Waters of the United States rule, adds to a lengthy list of environmental rules that the administration has worked to weaken or undo over the past 2½ years. Those efforts have focused heavily on eliminating restrictions on fossil fuel pollution, including coal-fired power plants, automobile tailpipes, and oil and gas leaks, but have also touched on asbestos and pesticides.
The repeal of the water rule, which is expected to take effect in a matter of weeks, has implications far beyond the pollution that will now be allowed to flow freely into streams and wetlands from farms, mines and factories. With Thursday’s announcement, the Environmental Protection Agency is aiming to establish a stricter legal definition of “waters of the United States” under the Clean Water Act, a precedent that could make it difficult for future administrations to take actions to protect waterways.
Weakening the rule had been a central campaign pledge for President Donald Trump, who characterized it as federal overreach that impinged on the rights of farmers, rural landowners and real estate developers to use their properties as they see fit. Trump signed an executive order in the early days of his administration directing federal agencies to begin the work of repealing and replacing it.
“Today’s final rule puts an end to an egregious power-grab,” Andrew Wheeler, the administrator of the EPA, said Thursday in a news conference to announce the repeal.
Wheeler said the rollback would mean “farmers, property owners and businesses will spend less time and money determining whether they need a federal permit and more time building infrastructure.”
But environmentalists assailed the move. “With many of our cities and towns living with unsafe drinking water, now is not the time to cut back on clean water enforcement,” said Laura Rubin, director of the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition.