June 27, 2017 / 6:22 PM / 2 months ago

EPA and Army Corps seek to rescind clean water rule

Scott Pruitt, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), speaks to employees of the Agency in Washington, U.S., February 21, 2017.Joshua Roberts

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers released a proposal on Tuesday to repeal the 2015 Clean Water Rule, the latest move by the Trump administration to unwind environmental regulations put in place under former President Barack Obama.

The agencies are working to rescind the rule, known as the Waters of the United States rule, and reinstate the language of the rule before it was changed in 2015.

The rule updated the federal Clean Water Act to define what waterways - including streams, rivers and other bodies - can be regulated by the federal government, stirring anger by the agriculture and energy industries, which said it gave regulators too much authority.

"We are taking significant action to return power to the states and provide regulatory certainty to our nation's farmers and businesses," EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said.

The Clean Water Act, passed in 1972 and last amended in 1987, is intended to protect the nation's waters from pollution.

In February, President Donald Trump said during the signing of an executive order calling for a review of the rule that the act should apply only to navigable waters that affect interstate commerce.

Some lawmakers and officials from states with large rural areas praised the move.

“Out-of-state D.C. bureaucrats shouldn’t impose regulations that hurt Montana farmers, ranchers and landowners,” said the state's Republican senator, Steve Daines.

The National Association of State Departments of Agriculture welcomed the change, saying the 2015 rule was flawed and "fraught" with procedural issues, "making it necessary to start over with a new rule that protects clean water and respects state regulatory authority."

Environmental groups criticized the move, saying it ignores public input and would put parts of the country like the Midwestern Great Lakes at risk.

"This foolish rollback of clean water standards rejects years of work building stakeholder input and scientific data support, and it imperils the progress for safe clean drinking water in the Midwest,” said Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center.

Others said the rollback will lead to pollution in some of the country's most sensitive wetland areas.

"Revoking the clean water rule will open the door to the pollution and bulldozing of some of America's most important wetlands," said Kierán Suckling, executive director at the Center for Biological Diversity

The rule had been placed on hold in 2015 by a federal court appeals court.

Reporting by Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Leslie Adler and Dan Grebler

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