Another Obama administration environmental rule is now history, as the Environmental Protection Agency on Thurday finalized its repeal of a 2015 rule expanding waterway and wetlands protections.
The 2015 "Waters of the United States" rule had support from environmentalists but faced criticism from agricultural and other interests. It was opposed in Colorado by U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner and Rep. Scott Tipton, both Republicans, and others including the Western Slope organization Club 20.
The EPA says the 2015 rule impermissibly expanded the definition of waters of the United States under the Clean Water Act.
Its action restores regulations that were in place prior to the 2015 rule, ending inconsistent regulations in different states as a result of various court actions on that rule. EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a news release that the action Thursday "fulfills a key promise of President Trump" and sets the stage for a second EPA action, a new waters of the U.S definition "that will provide greater regulatory certainty for farmers, landowners, home builders, and developers nationwide."
In a news release, Gardner called the EPA action Thursday "a victory for Colorado's farmers, cattlemen, ranchers, and small business owners."
He added, "This burdensome regulation from the Obama Administration would have been harmful to Colorado's economy and especially our agriculture community. Today's announcement is welcome news and finally prevents an unconstitutional takeover of Colorado's rivers, streams, and local waterways."
Don Shawcroft, president of the Colorado Farm Bureau, said in the Gardner news release that the action "paves the way for new clearer, concise rules to be put in place. Water is one of our most valuable resources, and this decision shows it is possible to have both clean water and sensible rules."
But the conservation group Western Resource Advocates said the EPA actions will significantly weaken protections for thousands of miles of waterways and millions of acres of wetlands across the West. It said the EPA's efforts aim to remove protections for rivers and streams that flow intermittently after rain or snow, and its proposed new definition threatens Western water supplies.
It says the EPA estimates that in Colorado and Utah alone, more than 5 million people receive drinking water from public systems relying at least in part on intermittent, ephemeral or headwater streams.
"This assault on the Clean Water Act makes it more important than ever for local lawmakers and water leaders to enact state-level policies that protect our rivers and our communities," Robert Harris, a senior staff attorney for the group, said in a statement.
Members of the Congressional Western Caucus, a conservative U.S. House of Representatives coalition, say the 2015 rule improperly enlarged the definition of navigable waterways under the Clean Water Act. The caucus says the rule expanded agency control to include 60% of streams and millions of acres of wetlands that weren't previously under the EPA's jurisdiction.
The EPA says it has finalized 46 deregulatory actions under the Trump administration and 45 more such actions are in process.