EPA Chief Calls for Narrowing Scope of Clean-Water Rule

The Environmental Protection Agency announced a proposal Tuesday that reduces the number of federally protected bodies of water compared with an Obama-era rule it seeks to replace.

EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler said the rule will give states needed flexibility in managing their streams and wetlands and provides greater certainty to Americans about when permits are needed, while reining in what he described as the overreach of the Obama administration.

Mr. Wheeler said former President Obama’s rule wrongly included many bodies of water that don’t regularly flow into larger waterways. The new proposed rule “puts an end to the previous administration’s power grab,” he said.

“Property owners should be able to stand on their property and be able to tell whether or not they have water that is a federal water without having to hire outside professionals,” Mr. Wheeler said.

The proposal requires a 60-day public comment period before the EPA begins drafting a final version, which the agency said it expects to publish by June.

The new EPA proposal, like the rule it seeks to replace, is designed to clarify the definition of “waters of the United States,” which the 1972 Clean Water Act stipulates should be regulated by the federal government. The Obama administration’s 2015 rule said if streams, wetlands or ditches have a significant impact on more major waterways, they fall under federal jurisdiction.

Mr. Wheeler’s proposal is for a rule that is more narrow in scope. “The Congress hasn’t told us to regulate all development across the entire country. They’ve told us to regulate navigable waters,” Mr. Wheeler told The Wall Street Journal in his first interview about the rule. “You have to draw a line.”

The change will appeal to some in the business world, and especially farming groups, which complained that the Obama rule was so broad that it made it difficult to know when permits were needed. Restrictions regarding ditches and groundwater could easily end up restricting the way they use their land, said Don Parrish, director of regulatory relations for the American Farm Bureau Federation.

“If land is regulated as water, as the Obama administration tried to do, it impacts farmers not only on how they plow, but how deeply they can plow their ground,” Mr. Parrish said.

Read more of this Wall Street Journal article by Heidi Vogt by clicking here.