News & Politics

Trump Administration to Roll Back Massive Federal Power Grab Over the Nation's Waterways

Andrew Wheeler, acting administrator at the Environmental Protection Agency, prepares to testify during the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works hearing on "Examining EPA's Agenda: Protecting the Environment and Allowing America's Economy to Grow" on Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2018. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call) (CQ Roll Call via AP Images)

A massive federal regulatory scheme to govern 95 percent of the waterways of the U.S. is being rolled back on Friday, much to the chagrin of environmental groups, who say that clean drinking water supplies are threatened for 117 million people.

EPA chief Andrew Wheeler will sign off on the repeal of the “Waters of the U.S.” at the headquarters building of the National Association of Manufacturers — one of several industry groups that were adamantly opposed to the Obama-era rule. It was perhaps the most egregious example of federal government overreach during the Obama years.

Greens didn’t see it that way.


Jon Devine, director of federal water policy for the Natural Resources Defense Council, defended the Obama administration rule in a statement, saying it “represented solid science and smart public policy.”

“The Trump administration’s wild-eyed attempts to reward polluters, however, knows no bounds, so it is repealing these important protections without regard for the law or sound science,” he said. “This unsubstantiated action is illegal and will certainly be challenged in court.”

Generally speaking, the more hysterical the rhetoric (“wild-eyed attempts to reward polluters”? Really?) the weaker the legal case being advanced. We get that a lot from the radical greens when any rule — even the tiniest adjustment to a regulation — is challenged in court.

Bottom line: This was a bad rule:

Republican lawmakers and industry groups argue that the Obama-era rule represented a vast federal overreach that intruded upon states’ authority to regulate their own waterways.

“This action officially ends an egregious power grab and sets the stage for a new rule that will provide much-needed regulatory certainty for farmers, home builders, and property owners nationwide,” Wheeler wrote in an opinion piece in the Des Moines Register this morning.

Contrary to the morbid exaggerations of proponents of the Obama rule, the Trump administration is promulgating new rules that will clarify most of the clean water regulatory regime that will protect our waterways while allowing for intelligent use of the land.

In repealing Obama’s rule,Wheeler’s action restores earlier regulations that had governed Clean Water Act permitting before 2015. Both environmentalists and industry groups have complained that the pre-2015 rules are laborious and lead to inconsistent decisions.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration is crafting a subsequent regulation that it hopes to finish before the end of the year to replace those rules with a much narrower definition of the types of streams and wetlands that are subject to Clean Water Act permitting requirements.By one early estimate from federal regulators, more than half the wetlands now protected would fall out of jurisdiction under the Trump administration’s approach, which would eliminate nearly all federal protections for waterways in arid states like Arizona.

Thursday’s rule is unlikely to create major changes on the ground right away because courts have put the Obama-era rule on hold in more than half the states.

The Obama rule was far too broad and infringed on private property rights. It made “wetlands” out of puddles. and was so confusing that farmers, especially, could be in violation of the law and not even be aware of it.

Anyone who thinks there’s no difference between the parties should examine this rule and Trump’s subsequent rollback. Capitalism vs. socialism. Freedom vs. control. Choice vs. mandates. Putting Democrats back in charge of the EPA will be like putting a 400-pound man in charge of a sweet shop.

It won’t be pretty.