EPA finalizes repeal of controversial Obama-era rule defining “Waters of the United States”

Last week marked a major win for the rule of law, property rights, and the environment: the Trump administration finalized its repeal of President Barack Obama’s infamous 2015 Clean Water Rule.

On September 12, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of the Army announced that the agencies are repealing the 2015 rule, which impermissibly expanded the definition of “waters of the United States” (WOTUS) under the Clean Water Act. The definition of WOTUS is critically important, as it sets the limits for what private lands and actions can and cannot be regulated under the law.

The Obama-era definition of WOTUS took federal overreach to a new level, expanding the jurisdiction of the federal government to regulate and control private landowners’ management activities and land use choices far beyond the original intent of the law. In repealing the 2015 rule, the agencies are ending a period of upheaval, overreach, and regulatory uncertainty across the United States.

The repeal also lays the groundwork for the Trump administration to roll out its own, new definition of WOTUS, which FLA believes will provide more certainty and stability for landowners across the country. The administration is expected to finalize the new WOTUS definition before the end of 2019.

FLA has advocated for the administration to repeal the 2015 rule and to replace it with a rule that provides landowners with stability, predictability, and fairness so that water quality can be protected while we keep working lands working. “Family forest landowners share the goal of ensuring the nation’s clean water and take pride in sustainably managing their forests to provide the public benefit of clean water for both urban and rural communities,” said FLA President Barrett McCall. “The repeal of the Clean Water Rule is an important step toward restoring proper limits on the power of the federal government to regulate private lands. Only when the economic viability of landowners remain unencumbered by inappropriate and costly regulations will we continue to see the many benefits forests provide – including clean water.”

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue also praised the EPA for taking this step to fulfill President Trump’s pledge to repeal and replace the WOTUS rule. “Repealing the WOTUS rule is a major win for American agriculture. The extreme overreach from the past Administration had government taking the productivity of the land people had worked for years,” Secretary Perdue said.

Daren Bakst, a senior fellow with The Heritage Foundation, said in a written statement that the Trump administration’s rule change will help to restore the rule of law in an area where it had gone missing. “The EPA and Army Corps of Engineers protect our nation’s waters best when they define what waters are regulated under the Clean Water Act in a manner consistent with the law itself, the U.S. Constitution, and a recognition that clear and objective definitions achieve positive environmental outcomes,” Bakst said.