Dec 11, 2018

EPA Proposes New Definition of WOTUS

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of the Army have proposed a new definition of Waters of the United States

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of the Army have proposed a new definition of Waters of the United States
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of the Army have proposed a new definition of Waters of the United States.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of the Army have proposed what they call a “clear, understandable, and implementable” definition of Waters of the United States (WOTUS), which clarifies federal authority under the Clean Water Act.

According to the EPA, the proposal announced Dec. 11, contains a definition that would result in significant cost savings, protect the nation’s navigable waters, help sustain economic growth and reduce barriers to business development.

The proposed rule also details what is not WOTUS. This includes features that only contain water during or in response to rainfall; groundwater; many ditches, including most roadside of farm ditches; prior converted cropland; stormwater control features and waste treatment systems.

“Our proposal would replace the Obama EPA’s 2015 definition with the one that respects the limits of the Clean Water Act and provides states and landowners the certainty they need to manage their natural resources and grow local economies,” said Andrew Wheeler, EPA Acting Administrator. “For the first time, we are clearly defining the difference between federally protected waterways and state protected waterways. Our simpler and clearer definition would help landowners understand whether a project on their property will require a federal permit or not, without spending thousands of dollars on engineering and legal professionals.”

The proposal is the second step in a two-step process to review and revise the definition of  WOTUS consistent with President Trump’s February 2017 Executive Order entitled “Restoring the Rule of Law, Federalism, and Economic Growth by Reviewing the ‘Waters of the United States’ Rule,” according to the EPA.

The Executive Order states that it is in national interest to ensure that the nation's navigable waters are kept free from pollution, while at the same time promoting economic growth, minimizing regulatory uncertainty and showing due regard for the roles of Congress and the states under the Constitution.

“EPA and the Army together propose this new definition that provides a clear and predictable approach to regulating ‘waters of the United States.’ We focused on developing an implementable definition that balances local and national interests under the Clean Water Act,” said R.D. James, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works. “I have heard from a wide range of stakeholders on Clean Water Act implementation challenges. This proposed definition provides a common-sense approach to managing our nation's waters.”

According to NPR, vast amounts of wetlands and thousands of miles of U.S. waterways would no longer be federally protected by the Clean Water Act under the new proposal.

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