On December 30, 2022, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized a new rule to protect millions of streams, marshes, and other bodies of water in the country. The rule reverts protections for these waters to levels that were in place before the Obama administration made changes in 2015, which led to nearly a decade of political and legal disputes. The EPA’s new rule is seen as a strategic move ahead of a Supreme Court ruling (Sackett v. EPA) expected in the coming year, which could reduce the government’s authority to regulate wetlands. By issuing a rule now, the EPA has a greater chance of locking in a broad definition of which waterways qualify for federal protection under the Clean Water Act.
Clean Water Act Background
The Clean Water Act is a federal law that regulates the discharge of pollutants into the nation’s surface waters, including lakes, rivers, streams, and wetlands. The Act gives the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the authority to implement and enforce regulations to protect these waters from pollution. The Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule is a regulation issued by the EPA that defines the scope of the Clean Water Act and specifies which waters are protected under the Act. The rule has been the subject of significant controversy and legal challenges since it was first proposed in 2014.
Key Takeaways of the December 2022 EPA Rule
- The EPA’s new rule aims to protect millions of streams, marshes, and other bodies of water in the US by reverting protections for these waters to levels that were in place before the Obama administration made changes in 2015.
- The new rule is seen as a strategic move ahead of a Supreme Court ruling expected in the coming year, which could reduce the government’s authority to regulate wetlands.
- The new rule includes provisions clarifying which bodies of water are excluded from regulation, such as certain agricultural lands. It also aims to simplify a test to determine whether a stream or wetland is subject to federal jurisdiction based on its distance from a tributary of a larger body of water.
- The EPA’s assistant administrator in the office of water, Radhika Fox, said that the new rule would not be followed by extensive further revisions, although the agency may propose “refinements.”
- The EPA’s new rule is expected to be welcomed by environmentalists and other supporters of strong clean water protections, but it is likely to face opposition from industries that would be affected by the regulations.
The EPA’s new WOTUS rule is a significant development in the ongoing efforts to protect the nation’s surface waters from pollution. The rule is seen as a proactive measure ahead of a potential Supreme Court ruling that could limit the government’s authority to regulate wetlands.
Remember that the Supreme Court ruling in the coming year may reduce the government’s authority. Scout Environmental experts stand ready to help you navigate long term planning in the area of the definition of “waters of the United States” and wetlands. If you have questions or need support, please contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org.