WASHINGTON — The Trump administration has formally suspended a major Obama-era clean water regulation ahead of plans to issue its own version of the rule later this year.
President Trump has taken aim at the bitterly contested rule, known as Waters of the United States, since his campaign, calling it “one of the worst examples of federal regulation.” Among Mr. Trump’s first actions in office was an executive order directing his Environmental Protection Agency administrator, Scott Pruitt, to begin the legal process of rescinding the ruleand replacing it with a more industry-friendly alternative.
On Wednesday, Mr. Pruitt took a major step toward completing that task, filing the legal documents required to suspend the Obama rule for two years. The rule was set to be implemented in the coming weeks, following a Supreme Court decision last week that gave jurisdiction of the matter to district courts.
Having suspended the water rule, Mr. Pruitt is now crafting a Trump administration version, which is expected to include much looser regulatory requirements on how farmers, ranchers and real estate developers must safeguard the streams and tributaries that flow through their property and into larger bodies of water.
The Obama clean water regulation, which would have limited the use of pollutants like chemical fertilizers that could run off into small streams, came under fierce criticism from the rural landowners that make up a key component of Mr. Trump’s political base.
“Today, E.P.A. is taking action to reduce confusion and provide certainty to America’s farmers and ranchers,” Mr. Pruitt said in a statement. “The 2015 WOTUS rule developed by the Obama administration will not be applicable for the next two years, while we work through the process of providing long-term regulatory certainty across all 50 states about what waters are subject to federal regulation.”
Mr. Pruitt told a conference of state agricultural commissioners that he intends to issue a draft proposal of replacement water regulations in the spring and to finalize new rules this year, according to Politico.
The Waters of the United States rule, designed to limit pollution in about 60 percent of the nation’s bodies of water, was put forth by the E.P.A. and the Army Corps of Engineers in 2015. It had extended existing federal protections of large bodies of water, such as the Chesapeake Bay and Puget Sound, to smaller bodies that flow into them, such as rivers, small waterways and wetlands.
Issued under the authority of the 1972 Clean Water Act, the rule has been hailed by environmentalists. But farmers, ranchers and real estate developers oppose it as an infringement on their property rights.
Republicans in farm states cheered the administration’s move on Wednesday.
“The Obama administration’s outrageous Waters of the United States rule would have put backyard ponds, puddles, and farm fields under Washington’s control,” said Senator John Barrasso, the Wyoming Republican who is chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. “Today’s action will give Wyoming’s ranchers, farmers, small businesses, and communities clarity.”
Environmentalists, meanwhile, assailed the move and vowed to sue the administration.
“The Clean Water Rule protects the bodies of water that feed the drinking water supply for one in three Americans,” said Jon Devine, a senior attorney with the National Resources Defense Council. “E.P.A. Administrator Scott Pruitt is racing the clock to deny protections for our public health and safety. It’s grossly irresponsible, and illegal — and we’ll challenge it in court.”