EPA to roll back 2015 Obama-era rule on water protection

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Posted at 5:41 PM, Sep 12, 2019
and last updated 2019-09-13 10:18:33-04

INDIANAPOLIS – Representatives from the EPA, the Army Corps of Engineers, Indiana Department of Environmental Management announced Thursday a rollback of an Obama-era rule designed to protect more waterways in the United States.

The 2015 rule expanded the definition of “waters of the United States,” and gained the nickname WOTUS.

The Clean Water Act, first passed in 1972, protects federal waterways but doesn’t define them. That action was left up to the EPA, until the WOTUS rule in 2015. WOTUS aimed to provide a guideline for what is considered a “water of the United States” under the Clean Water Act.

The rule had been called overreach by members of the Trump administration, including EPA director Andrew Wheeler.

EPA Region 5 Administrator Cathy Stepp said water quality will not be harmed with the change.

But many environmental groups, including some local ones, have criticized the decision to repeal the rule.

"This rollback ignores the fact that water flows into water and it's all connected,” said Indra Frank of the Hoosier Environmental Council. “This rollback says it's not OK to pollute a big river, but it is OK to pollute a small stream that flows into a big river."

Indiana is not one of the states that currently follows the 2015 rule, instead following the pre-2015 guidelines. It’s been held up in court in some states since its induction four years ago.

Thursday’s actions by the EPA is only the first step to repeal the rule. The second and final step is expected to happen this winter, Stepp said.

The EPA, under the Trump administration, has finalized 46 deregulatory action. EPA officials say these moves have saved Americans more than $3.5 billion. Another 45 deregulatory actions are still in development.

"[The rollback provides certainty, it allows people to understand the roles of the state and federal government in ensuring our water quality is clean," IDEM Commissioner Bruno Pigott said.