WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump has signed an executive order instructing the Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers to review a rule that redefined “waters of the United States” protected under the Clean Water Act to include smaller creeks and wetlands.
The order asks the heads of the agencies to publish a proposed rule rescinding or revising the waters rule for notice and comment.
At a Feb. 28 White House signing ceremony, the president called the rule, which has never been implemented because of a series of lawsuits, “one of the worst examples of federal regulation” that he said “has truly run amok.”
“It’s been a disaster,” he went on, claiming that the EPA had decided it could regulate “nearly every puddle or every ditch on a farmer’s land or any place else that they decide.”
Trump campaigned against the water rule, citing it as an example of federal overreach. Farmers and landowners have criticized the rule, saying there are already too many government regulations that affect their businesses.
The American Farm Bureau Federation, one of the most vocal opponents of the rule, cheered the president’s move, calling it “a welcome relief to farmers and ranchers across the country.”
“EPA has too long been characterized by regulatory overreach that disregards the positive conservation efforts of farmers and threatens their very way of life. Today’s action is as much a beginning as an end,” said Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall in a statement.
John Starkey, president of U.S. Poultry & Egg Association, said his organization is “very pleased that the thousands of family owned and operated poultry farms will gain relief from this unreasonable, uncertain and confusing WOTUS rule.
“Like many other agricultural groups, we never believed EPA’s rule fairly considered comments from the growers and producers who own and operate these farms,” Starkey said. “In fact, it caused greater confusion and significantly expanded EPA’s authority on private, predominately family owned farmlands far beyond the scope authorized by the Clean Water Act.
Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary W. Black noted that as head of a regulatory agency, “I believe it is our responsibility to enforce the law through rules and regulations, not to create the law through rules and regulations
“This expanded authority of the ‘Waters of the US (WOTUS)’ gave the federal government the ability to dictate how people can use their personal property and farmland around these small, insignificant collections of water and circumvented the will of Congress. I applaud the quick action of President Trump’s executive order to reverse this clear and blatant overreach of the government’s power.” Black said.
Craig Uden, the president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, applauded the president’s action in a statement, saying the rule represents one of the “largest federal land grabs and private-property infringements in American history.”
It “should be taken out behind the barn and put out of its misery,” he said.
The National Corn Growers Association also supported the president’s move to repeal the water rule.
“Farmers and ranchers care deeply about clean water, but this rule had significant flaws. It was arbitrarily written, legally indefensible and extremely difficult to implement,” stated NCGA President Wesley Spurlock.
However, proponents of the rule argue that it safeguards drinking water for millions of Americans and clarifies confusion about which streams, tributaries and wetlands should be protected.
Despite the outcry over the rule, it has never taken effect because of lawsuits filed by attorneys general and large agriculture companies. Environmental groups such as the Sierra Club have said they will sue to fight any attempt by the Trump administration to roll back the rule.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.