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Donald Trump has turned over yet another of former President Barack Obama's legislations, something he has done continuously since entering office. This time it is a repeal of the 2015 Clean Water Rule that gave the Environmental Protection Agency broader authority over the nation's waterways than the standard that was initially put into play 70 years ago.
The Clean Water Act is a federal law that governs water pollution, giving states the ability to address pollution and provide assistance to do so, including funding for improvement of wastewater treatment and maintaining the integrity of wetlands. It was first enacted in 1948 under the name the Federal Water Pollution Control Act.
It was completely rewritten in 1972 and referred to as the Federal Water Pollution Control Act Amendment of 1972, with major changes being introduced five years later to form the Clean Water Act of 1977. 10 years later more changes were made under the Walter Quality Act of 1987.
In 2015 the Clean Water Rule gave the EPA a broader authority of the nation's waterways. Some believe it gave the government too much power, while others believed it would prevent the loss of wetlands. The regulation has been temporarily blocked in 28 states with court rulings.
On Thursday the Trump administration repealed what the Obama administration defined as a "water of the United States," returning the country to standards in place since 1987, regarding what waterways were protected.
"What we have today is a patchwork across the country," said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. "We need to have a uniform regulatory approach." He added that a new definition for which bodies of water would receive federal protection within a matter of months.
"We want to make sure that we have a definition that once and for all will be the law of the land in all 50 states," he concluded.
Critics believe rolling back this rule/law will speed up destroying wetlands and headwaters, bodies of water that provide a critical habitat for wildlife and support of the drinking water supply. About half of the country's wetlands were drained to expand farmland with the late President George H.W. Bush's plan to curb wetlands loss.
"The administration wants to go back to an era where we are destroying wetlands heedlessly," stated Robert Irvin, American Rivers organization president of Donald Trump's latest rollback.
This repeal is something Trump has worked on since shortly after he took office. He issued an executive order in early 2017 that directed the EPA to review the 2015 regulation to set up what he called "the elimination of this very destructive and horrible rule."
In a 2006 lawsuit, the Supreme Court's most conservative judges offered that only "navigable waters" were included in the Clean Water Act, but Justice Anthony Kennedy refused to side with the conservatives or liberals and said the government could intervene when there was a "significant nexus" between large and small bodies of water.
Trump's executive order said Justice Antonin Scalia's 2006 opinion should be held up. He believed the law should apply to wetlands connected to "relatively permanent" bodies of water and navigable waters.
Wheeler admitted it was taking longer than first expected to finalize the newer standards because research was being conducted to show why they were constraining the federal government's authority over certain bodies of water.
"I'm not in a rush to meet artificial deadlines," he added. "I want to make sure that our regulations are grounded, that they have all the supporting information they need to be upheld by the courts."
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