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EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt signed Jan. 31 a rule to block an Obama-era regulation defining the scope of the nation’s water quality law after it flew through White House review.
Pruitt first announced his intent to quickly approve the delay during a meeting of state agricultural officials in Washington earlier in the day.
“I am actually signing that today,” Pruitt said.
The White House Jan. 30 completed its review of the Environmental Protection Agency’s rule to postpone until 2020 the regulation, known as the Clean Water Rule or Waters of the U.S., after just five days of scrutiny.
“We are working very aggressively to finalize the rule and you should see some action quickly,” David Ross, EPA assistant administrator for water, told the gathering of state agriculture officials in Washington.
The EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have been racing to pause the Waters of the U.S. rule, also known as WOTUS, since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a nationwide ban on the regulation Jan. 22. The Supreme Court could issue its final order to enforce its decision as early as Feb. 15, which means the rule would have taken effect across most of the country. A district court has already blocked the rule in 14 states.
The Obama-era rule attempted to clarify which waters and wetlands are protected by the Clean Water Act and are subject to regulatory regimes, including federal permits, oil spill prevention requirements, and state water quality certifications. It was opposed by several states, road builders, and agriculture groups.
The Trump administration pledged to rewrite and rescind the 2015 rule, which it said expands federal authority over local land-use decisions and imposes costly permitting burdens.
Pruitt told the state officials that he learned from farmers, ranchers, and property owners about the impact WOTUS would have.
Ross, who addressed the gathering prior to Pruitt, said the Supreme Court decision that reinstated the 2015 rule created some uncertainty that would be eliminated by EPA’s action.
Pruitt said the new regulation that postpones the WOTUS implementation date will avoid the confusion and uncertainty created by the Supreme Court ruling.
The attorneys general of California, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia already have signaled that they would consider suing the administration if it does push back the rule’s effective date.
The League of Conservation Voters condemned the EPA action to push back the rule to 2020.
“Pruitt’s actions demonstrate just how scared the Trump administration is that these commonsense safeguards would go into effect and actually disprove their bogus apocalyptic claims,” Madeleine Foote, the organization’s legislative representative said in a Jan. 31 statement.
Meanwhile, Pruitt reiterated the administration’s plan to have a proposal to rewrite the 2015 rule no later than May and to have it in place by the end of the year. This is despite the fact that the agency’s own regulatory agenda states that the final rewrite won’t be out till June 2019.
Prior to issuing a proposal though, the EPA and corps in February plan to hold more consultations with state water, environmental, and agriculture officials to find out where they should draw the line on the geographic reach of the Clean Water Act, Ross said.
“How far up the watershed should we go? Where should we draw the line and why? Why does it matter?” Ross said.
He encouraged states to provide recommendations and engage in “meaningful” exchanges.
“My job is to listen and make sure we are asking the right questions so we can make the right decisions,” Ross said.
(Updated with information that Pruitt signed the rule)
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