News & Media
florida waterway
Dan Reynolds Photography / Getty Images

EPA and Army Corps Rolling Back Waterway Protection Rules

The Trump administration is lifting protections for some streams and wetlands in one of its most extensive and far-reaching environmental protection rollbacks.

WASHINGTON (AP) – The Trump administration is lifting protections for some of the nation’s millions of miles of streams, arroyos and wetlands, nearing completion on one of its most far-reaching environmental rollbacks.

The changes announced Thursday will scale back which waterways qualify for protection against pollution and development under the half-century-old Clean Water Act. President Donald Trump has made a priority of the rollback of clean-water protections from his first weeks in office. Trump says he is targeting federal rules and regulations that impose unnecessary burdens on businesses.

Chiefs of the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced the changes at a builders’ convention in Las Vegas.

“EPA and the Army are providing much needed regulatory certainty and predictability for American farmers, landowners and businesses to support the economy and accelerate critical infrastructure projects,” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a statement.

The administration says the changes would allow farmers to plow their fields without fear of unintentionally straying over the banks of a federally protected dry creek, bog or ditch. But the government’s figures show it is real estate developers and those in other nonfarm business sectors that take out the most permits for impinging on wetlands and waterways, and stand to reap the biggest regulatory and financial relief.

A draft version of the rule released earlier would end federal oversight for up to half of the nation’s wetlands, and one-fifth of the country’s streams, the upstream sources of drinking water, environmental groups warned.

The rollback would be one of the most ambitious of the Trump administration’s wide-ranging cuts in federal protections on the environment and public health. While many rollback efforts have targeted regulations adopted under the Obama administration, the draft clean-water plan released earlier would lift federal protections for many waterways and wetlands that have stood for decades under the Clean Water Act.

That includes protections for creek and river beds that run only in wet seasons or after rain or snow melt – the kind of so-called ephemeral and intermittent waterways that provide the majority of water for some dry states in the West. “That’s a huge rollback from way before Obama, before Reagan,” said Blan Holman, a senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center.

State officials in New Mexico have particular concerns given that the Rio Grande, which provides drinking water and irrigation supplies for millions of people in the Southwest and Mexico, depends largely on the types of intermittent streams, creeks and wetlands that could lose protection under the rule draft released earlier. The Rio Grande is one of North America’s longest rivers.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press, Ellen Knickmeyer. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Associated Press writer Susan Montoya in Albuquerque, New Mexico, contributed to this report.