Clean Water Rule
In 1972, the United States Congress passed the Clean Water Act, giving the United States government, through the EPA, environmental control over various waters in the United States. The law lacked clarity as to what is considered waters of the United States. In June of 2015, the Obama administration sought to clarify the meaning of waters of the United States by applying the Clean Water Act standards to all streams and wetlands that have a hydrological and ecological connection to interstate waterways, traditional navigable waterways, and international seas.
As a result, a significant number of wetlands and streams fell under the Clean Water Act. This was known as the Clean Water Rule. The rule was to include all navigable waters in the United States. This meant that small rivers, some streams, and other wetlands would fall under the aegis of the Clean Water Act.
The Obama administration claimed that this regulation was necessary to help ensure proper, clean drinking water for many. The EPA put that number at 117 million people. In addition, the EPA claimed that having the Clean Water Rule would help keep water clean for the fishing industry.
In response, a number of groups filed lawsuits to enjoin the implementation of this clean water rule, stating that the rule goes too far and infringes on personal liberty. Those opposing the Clean Water Rule were primarily right wing groups, though many Democratic lawmakers from states with large farming and energy industries were against the Obama Clean Water Rule. These groups claimed that it interferes with farmers by making unnecessary burdens when farming and hurts the energy industry, especially those states where they conduct fracking.
Blocking the Clean Water Rule
Hours before the Clean Water Rule was supposed to take effect in 2015, a federal judge in North Dakota issued an injunction against it. Among the objections was a claim of a violation of the Commerce Clause. Under the Commerce Clause, the Federal Government has the right to legislate items related to “intercourse between the states.” The Clean Water Rule, they claimed, reaches too far.
Trump Administration’s Response
President Donald Trump exercised his presidential power of issuing executive orders when he signed such an order directing the EPA to review the Clean Water Rule and possible repeal of such rule. When signing the executive order, President Trump stated: “The EPA’s so-called ‘Waters of the United States’ rule is one of the worst examples of federal regulation, and it has truly run amok, and is one of the rules most strongly opposed by farmers, ranchers, and agricultural workers all across our land. The EPA decided that navigable waters can mean nearly every puddle or every ditch on a farmer’s land or anyplace else that they decide.”
Because the Clean Water Rule has been tied up in courts for the last three years, any repeal of that rule is not going to have an impact on current practice. This is another example of President Trump chipping away at Obama era environmental legislation.