Biden EPA Revives Waters of the United States

04.01.2023 - Just before the New Year, the administration of US president Joe Biden revived Waters of the United States, a section of former president Barack Obama’s Clean Air Act that had been deleted by Donald Trump in a move rejected by a federal court.

Both the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Army Corps of Engineers signed off on the revised regulations designed to protect small streams, wetlands and waterways at the end of December. The rules define which types of water bodies are protected under the Act based on definitions that were in place prior to 2015.

Trump was elected in 2016 after the Obama EPA was unable to overcome opposition to the proposed legislation from landowners claiming property rights and challenging the administration’s plans to override states’ rights in regulating waterways.

Reports said the administration had worked to wrap up a clean water package before an impending US Supreme Court decision that could complicate the federal government’s ability to protect wetlands and other waters. In its June 2022 final session before its summer recess, the court indicated that it could weaken the government’s authority to regulate wetlands.

The EPA rules essentially restore protections for millions of streams, marshes and other bodies of water to levels that existed before the Obama administration made major changes in 2015, leading to nearly a decade of political and legal disputes.

Obama’s stricter water standards were drafted in response to a massive contamination of drinking water in the city of Flint, Michigan, which left thousands without access to clean water.

In reversing plans to expand federal protections of waterways in early 2017, the one-term president had called the legislation that sought a clearer definition of 1970s anti-pollution rules “destructive and horrible.”

Chief beneficiaries of the Trump rules were expected to be farmers, builders and oil producers and their lobbies, who had complained about the federal government regulating ravines and creeks on private property.

The Biden EPA rules increase protections of wetlands, lakes, ponds and some streams, especially if they are navigable. Without regulation of those waterways, environmental groups have said wetlands could be filled in by property owners, thus damaging natural habitats.

Trump’s 2017 revision of Obama’s clean water rules also would have permitted property owners to dump pollutants into the unprotected waterways, which could potentially flow downstream and threaten wildlife or water supply sources.

In rejecting that administration’s changes, US district court judge Rosemary Marquez said the administration had ignored the fact that smaller waterways could affect the health of waterways they flow into.

Author: Dede Williams, Freelance Journalist