In another blow to President Obama’s regulatory legacy, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt announced Tuesday that his agency will rescind the Clean Water Rule, commonly known as WOTUS, or “Waters of the United States.” The move follows an executive order issued by President Trump in February, which called for a review of the rule. In a statement, Pruitt — who sued the EPA over WOTUS when he was Oklahoma’s attorney general — said the agency is “taking significant action to return power to the states and provide regulatory certainty to our nation’s farmers and businesses.”
The Obama administration published the rule two years ago in an attempt to expand the types of waterways covered by the Clean Water Act. Relying on Supreme Court case law, Obama’s EPA added “tributaries” and “adjacent” waters to its authority, including “all wetlands, ponds, lakes, oxbows, impoundments, and similar water features that are located in whole or in part within 100 feet of the ordinary high-water mark of a jurisdictional water.” It subsequently faced legal challenges as well as fierce opposition from business and agriculture groups, and had been stayed by an appellate court at the time of Pruitt’s announcement.
“We are extremely pleased, this was a very powerful day for us,” says Lauren Lurkins, a spokeswoman for the Illinois Farm Bureau. “We heard loud and clear from our members about how this would have created many regulatory burdens on them. We look forward to working with the administration to rewrite the rule.”
Republicans in Congress also commended the administration’s action. “I applaud Administrator Pruitt for his proposal to repeal WOTUS, which was one of the most onerous rules from the Obama administration,” said Arizona representative Andy Biggs, the chairman of the House Science Committee’s Subcommittee on Environment. “WOTUS was opposed by over 200 organizations and local communities and would have had devastating effects on western states, including Arizona.”
Of course, not everyone was pleased. “It goes without saying that the Trump administration doesn’t care about the environment, public health, or its duty to protect our most precious natural resources — and that is why it’s up to us, the American people, to hold them accountable,” said Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune in a statement. “We will fight this and every other attempt by polluters and the Trump administration to destroy our water resources.”
As the president and Congress struggle to move forward on health care and tax reform, the overhaul of environmental policies has provided the new administration with its most striking early successes. The EPA is arguably the busiest federal agency. It’s reviewing Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which seeks to reduce CO2 emissions by 32 percent of 2005 levels in the next 25 years. It’s challenging methane-emissions regulations issued by the Obama administration. It’s amending the Toxic Substances Control Act. Its leader, Pruitt, helped convince the president to exit the Paris Climate Accord, and is also reorganizing many of the EPA’s scientific advisory boards, long a hub of cronyism and political activism.
The overhaul of environmental policies has provided the new administration with its most striking early successes.
Pruitt is not the only administration official upending the status quo on energy and the environment. On the same day that the WOTUS repeal was unveiled, Energy Secretary Rick Perry brought his Texas swagger to the White House press-briefing room. In honor of Energy Week, Perry was there to hype the Wednesday afternoon meeting he and the president held with a group of elected, business, and labor leaders “all together in one room, happily sitting down and discussing . . . what the path forward is on U.S. energy dominance.” He promised that the administration will end the “bureaucratic blockade that has hindered American energy creation.” He gave an impassioned defense of nuclear power, anathema to most environmental activists on the Left, as a key to any clean-energy agenda. And he pledged to make nuclear energy “cool again.” “No clean-energy portfolio is truly complete without nuclear power,” he said. “This administration believes nuclear-energy development can be a game-changer.”
Perry also took on the banal and pointless question about whether humans are causing climate change. Though he agreed that “the climate is changing and man is having an impact on that,” he argued that there should be more open debate on the issue. “What is the other side? The people who say, ‘The science is settled, it’s done. If you don’t believe that, you’re a skeptic, a Luddite.’ I don’t buy that. This is America, have a conversation.” If Perry can foster a public debate about climate change and challenge the political, media, and scientific establishments to come up with arguments deeper than their usual haughty platitudes, it will count as another important achievement for the White House.
The tone and approach from this administration on energy and the environment could not be more different than that of its predecessor. As far as most business owners, farmers, and taxpayers are concerned, that’s a very good thing.