Trump administration proposes major rollback of water rules
WASHINGTON (AP) — Cabinet chiefs and GOP lawmakers celebrated alongside farm and business leaders Tuesday as the Trump administration made good on one of its biggest promised environmental rollbacks, proposing to remove federal protections for thousands of waterways nationwide.
Environmental groups called the proposed overhaul of federal water protections one of the gravest assaults ever on the aims of the 1972 Clean Water Act, the foundational U.S. water protection law. Administration supporters praised President Donald Trump for knocking back what they said was federal overreach.
The Obama-era water protections targeted for replacement by Tuesday's regulatory overhaul "was never about clean water," Rep. Sam Graves, a Republican and farmer from Missouri, and one of about a dozen GOP Congress members at Tuesday's launch at headquarters of the Environmental Protection Agency. "It was always about the federal government getting more control over our water and our lives. I want to thank (Trump) for keeping that promise," Graves said.
"Thank you, Mr. President, for giving us the Christmas present of a lifetime," the president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, Zippy Duvall of Georgia, said. “Farmers and ranchers work every day to protect our nation’s waterways and drinking water. For more than five years we have advocated for a new water rule that protects clean water and provides clear rules for people and communities to follow. This new rule will empower farmers and ranchers to comply with the law, protect our water resources and productively work their land without having to hire an army of lawyers and consultants.
Environmental groups said the Trump administration proposal would have a sweeping impact on how the country safeguards the nation's waterways, scaling back not just a 2015 Obama administration interpretation of federal jurisdiction, but how federal agencies enforce the 1972 Clean Water Act.
"The Trump administration has just given a big Christmas gift to polluters," said Bob Irvin, president of the American Rivers environmental nonprofit. "Americans all over the country are concerned about the safety of their drinking water — this is not the time to be rolling back protections."
Duvall says protecting land and water in the communities where farmers and ranchers work is in the best interest of everyone.
“Clean water is our way of life. Preserving our land and protecting our water means healthy places to live, work and play. We believe this new Clean Water Rule is rooted in common-sense. It will protect our nation’s water resources and allow farmers to farm.
The Trump administration would remove federal protections for wetlands nationally unless they are connected to another federally protected waterway, and for streams, creeks, washes, ditches and ponds that exist only during rains.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, also attending the ceremony for the regulatory changes, told the farmers and others attending the proposal "doesn't remove any protection."
"It puts the decision back where it should be, the people that work the land, that hunt, that own the land," Zinke said.
Industry groups in praised the latest Trump administration environmental regulatory rollback.
"When you have uncertainty and overreach it makes it incredibly difficult to build American homes," Gerald Howard, the CEO of the National Association of Home Builders, said of the Obama administration's interpretation of the water rules.
Environmental groups say the kind of isolated wetlands, rain-fed streams and often dry washes that would lose federal protections also help buffer communities from the worsening impact of drought, floods and hurricanes under climate change, and are vital for wildlife.
The rules now go up for public comment, ahead of any final adoption by the Trump administration. Environmental groups are promising legal challenges.
John Duarte, a farmer who battled the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for years over accusations of destroying wetlands when plowing a field to grow wheat in Tehama County, California, said the Trump administration proposals are an improvement over the Obama policies and "will provide some relief" but don't go far enough to protect landowners from government overreach.
"The agencies won't be constrained by these new regulations," said Duarte, who reached a $1.1 million settlement in 2017 but said the fight cost him several millions more in legal fees and other expenses. "It's Sheriff of Nottingham behavior — agencies coming onto your property, making some claims against you and extracting what they can for the king."