WASHINGTON – A federal judge has rejected a Trump-era rule that ended federal protections for hundreds of thousands of small streams, wetlands and other waterways and made them vulnerable to pollution from nearby development.
The Biden administration had previously said it plans to repeal the Trump-era rule and issue new regulations defining which waterways are federally protected under the Clean Water Act. But the Trump rule has remained in place in the meantime, and environmental groups, Native American tribes and others have said it could result in the loss of wetlands, damage wildlife habitat, and empower businesses and farmers. pollute waterways.
Obama-appointed U.S. District Court Judge Rosemary Marquez in Arizona sided with those groups on Monday, determining that the Trump administration’s rule last year unduly limited the scope of water protections drinkable. Marquez said the Environmental Protection Agency ignored its own findings that small streams can affect the well-being of the large streams they flow into.
The EPA, now led by Biden-appointed Michael Regan, said it was reviewing the decision and declined to comment. In June, Regan said the agency planned to issue a new rule that protects water quality while not overburdening small farmers.
The water rule – sometimes referred to as “United States waters” or WOTUS – has long been a point of contention. In 2015, the Obama administration extended federal protection to nearly 60% of the country’s waterways. Because the Obama rule also faced several legal challenges, Monday’s decision reinstates a 1986 standard – which is wider than Trump’s rule but narrower than Obama’s – until further news regulations are published.
According to an earlier Biden administration review, the Trump rule allowed more than 300 projects to proceed without the federal permits required under the Obama-era rule. The review also found that the Trump rule significantly reduced the protection of drinking water in states such as New Mexico and Arizona.
These changes were challenged in court by six Native American tribes who said the Trump rule defied the environmental purpose of the law. Until it was repealed, the rule “caused irreparable damage to the waters of our country,” said Janette Brimmer, lawyer for Earthjustice, an environmental group that represented the tribes.
Gunnar Peters, president of the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin, one of the tribes that brought the lawsuit, said federal water regulations “protect our history, our culture and the way of life of our people. “.
Monday’s decision takes effect across the country and could have an immediate impact. In Georgia, a proposed titanium mine a few miles from the edge of Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge may require federal approval after all. Last year, the Army Corps of Engineering determined that it no longer had jurisdiction over the project. On Tuesday, an Army Corps spokesperson said it was too early to determine how the decision would affect his involvement in the project.
Developers and other businesses that could benefit from regulatory and financial relief under the Trump rule are also affected. Supporters of less restrictive federal regulations say waterway protection should be left to the states.
Chuck Fowke, president of the National Association of Home Builders, said the group was disappointed with Monday’s decision. He said the move would cause confusion as to where home builders could expand and lead to “longer delays and higher housing costs.”
Phillis reported from St. Louis. Associated Press writer Kate Brumback in Atlanta contributed.
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