Executive Action

waters of the US donald trump executive order stormwater runoff

In the thick of his first 100 days in office, President Donald Trump seems to be making good on his promise to curb regulations. This time, he's targeting the water industry. On Feb. 28, Trump signed an executive order mandating a review of the Clean Water Rule, which the Obama administration implemented in 2015. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Army Corps of Engineers will review the definition of “waters of the U.S.”

“It is in the national interest to ensure that the nation's navigable waters are kept free from pollution, while at the same time promoting economic growth, minimizing regulatory uncertainty, and showing due regard for the roles of the Congress and the states under the Constitution,” the order states.

Legally, an executive order alone cannot eliminate the rule. EPA has submitted a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to withdraw and replace the rule.

Reactions to this executive order are, predictably, mixed.            

Environmental groups believe eliminating the Clean Water Rule will threaten water quality throughout the country, making it vulnerable to pollution and endangering the health of both humans and animals.

“Gutting this rule would threaten the wetlands and streams that feed the drinking water sources for 1 in 3 people—or 117 million Americans.  It would put our rivers, lakes, marshes and bays at risk of pollution,” said Rhea Suh, president of the National Resources Defense Council in a statement. “The Clean Water Rule’s safeguards are grounded in science and law.  … We all rely on healthy wetlands to curb flooding, filter pollutants, support fish, waterfowl and wildlife, and feed our rivers and lakes.”

Others believe the rule is too restrictive, claiming it places an unnecessary burden on industry, agriculture and real estate development.

“The productive sector of the economy is now staggering under the cumulative burden of ever-increasing government demands and restrictions imposed with scant consideration of needs and effectiveness or costs and benefits. The result has become a growing economic malaise afflicting almost all productive activity,” said Walter Starck, policy advisor, environment, for the Heartland Institute. “The [Waters of the U.S.] Rule is a prime example of this problem. It entails a vast new regulatory expansion over land use which addresses no clearly identified problem and has no clearly defined limits. It simply establishes arbitrary bureaucratic authority by the EPA over all land containing, bordering on, or even distantly connected by possible runoff to any wetland, pond, lake, stream, or other waterway.”

Scott Pruitt, the new EPA administrator, sued EPA over the rule when he was attorney general of Oklahoma.

Ultimately, according to the EPA website, the executive order “preserves a federal role in protecting water, but it also restores the states’ important role in the regulation of water.” The Clean Water Rule page on the EPA site also includes general information about the rule, including a page that outlines what the rule does not do, presumably to clear up common misconceptions touted by the rule’s opponents.

What do you think about the proposed review and elimination of the Clean Water Rule? Let us know in the comments. 

Amy McIntosh is the managing editor of Storm Water Solutions. McIntosh can be reached at [email protected]

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