The federal government is looking into specific ways to end an Obama-era rule that expanded federal jurisdiction over pollution in streams and wetlands.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) last week released a proposal to rescind the Obama Administration’s controversial rule known as Waters of the United States, or WOTUS.
The proposal follows actions by President Trump, who earlier this year signed an executive order, “Restoring the Rule of Law, Federalism, and Economic Growth by Reviewing the ‘Waters of the United States’ Rule,” which stated it is in the national interest to protect navigable waters from pollution while also promoting economic growth and minimizing regulatory uncertainty
The Clean Water Act defines U.S. waters that are protected and how they should be protected. Supreme Court decisions have subsequently added to or clarified interpretations, but those rulings and subsequent government action also have caused confusion.
“In 2014, the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers proposed an extensive and controversial new regulation that would greatly expand the definitions of which waters are actually included under regulatory jurisdiction,” said Shawn McBurney, the Society of American Florists’ senior director of government relations. “The rule gave EPA authority over a large percentage of the nation’s waterways, including even minor streams, drainage and irrigation ditches, and could subject landowners and businesses to increased lawsuits.”
Agriculture, along with other industries, protested the proposal, fearing it would bring many farms, nurseries and other agricultural operations under unnecessarily stringent regulation.
SAF and AmericanHort commented on the 2014 rule when it was released, noting that the floriculture and nursery industries have dedicated significant resources through the Floriculture and Nursery Research Initiative, the American Floral Endowment and the Horticultural Research Institute toward water-related best practices research. The proposed rule, the two organizations said at the time, could create confusion and require permits for activities such as removing debris and vegetation from a ditch or building a patio, fence or pond.
According to EPA and the Corps, “the proposal issued last week is intended to provide certainty during an interim period while the agencies work to craft a ‘substantive re-evaluation of the definition of ‘waters of the United States,’” McBurney explained.