“Trump Administration Rolls Back Clean Water Protections,” ran The New York Times headline on the repeal of Obama-era Environmental Protection Agency rulemaking. Don’t buy the hype: Team Trump’s move wasn’t a blow against clean water but a win for basic justice.
All the pre-Obama protections of the water supply remain in effect. This simply undoes a move that gave EPA jurisdiction over vast amounts of dry land, in clear violation of Congress’ intent.
By adding terms such as “adjacent waters” and “tributaries” to Clean Water Act coverage, the move empowered EPA officials to grab power over seasonal streams, farm irrigation ponds, roadside ditches and even “connective” dry lands that can turn into “shallow wetlands” when it rains.
As Ron Arnold of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise put it, it let the feds “control virtually anything that gets wet.”
That’s created massive uncertainty for farmers, ranchers, real-estate developers and pretty much anyone who owns more than an acre of land — because it’s been near-impossible to know if, say, the presence of a pond won’t bring the EPA down on you.
And the feds aren’t shy about imposing multimillion-dollar fines on farmers just for plowing fields that turn out to contain “seasonal wetlands.”
It’s been the subject of lawsuits from the start, with federal district courts across the nation stopping it from taking effect in roughly half the states. Even there, property owners have worried that the rule might eventually be upheld.
All those worries are now lifted … at least until the Democrats retake the White House.
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