Under Barack Obama, the EPA tried changing the definition of navigable waterways to exert federal jurisdiction over as many bodies of water as possible. The Waters of the United States Rule of 2015 ended up in federal appellate court as states challenged the overreach. Now Donald Trump plans to reverse course and aim at shrinking federal jurisdiction instead, and will take the first step today, according to the Washington Post:
President Trump on Tuesday will instruct the Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers to “review and reconsider” a 2015 rule known as the Waters of the United States rule, according to a senior official, a move that could ultimately make it easier for agricultural and development interests to drain wetlands and small streams.
The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the executive order had not yet been signed, said the directive aimed to address the concerns of about 30 states and an array of business interests that have criticized the previous administration for overreaching. The final outcome of Trump’s order could have tremendous implications for the agricultural, real estate, gravel, sand and ranching sectors, as well as a critical habitat for aquatic species and migratory birds.
The upcoming battle has both environmentalists and sportsmen gearing up for a fight, too:
“Without the Clean Water Rule’s critical protections, innumerable small streams and wetlands that are essential for drinking water supplies, flood protection, and fish and wildlife habitat will be vulnerable to unregulated pollution, dredging and filling,” said Bob Irvin, president of American Rivers.
John Gale, conservation director for Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, who noted that the previous administration had weighed 1 million comments when crafting its rule, said these smaller streams and water bodies create “healthy riparian areas critical to more than 80 percent of our wildlife, including numerous species of big game. Sportsmen will not stand for shortsighted, irresponsible attacks on fundamental conservation laws like the Clean Water Act.”
Most of this concern is misplaced, at the very least. Those waterways existed well before Obama implemented the 2015 WOTUS, and it in fact never actually took effect. If the federal government withdraws its jurisdictional claims, then that returns to the states. Sportsmen and environmentalists can organize on the state level, where government is both more responsive and more effective than federal oversight. (One need only take a peek at the Animas River in Colorado and New Mexico to understand that.)
The reason these groups want federal control over non-federal land is because it’s easier to leverage their political weight in Washington. They can combine forces with other progressive groups and get like-minded politicians and bureaucrats to make determinations on resources that have nothing to do with interstate commerce or their own constituents. That’s precisely the problem that leads to regulatory overgrowth and adventurism. When property owners have to deal with Washington bureaucrats, they have little leverage. When they deal with state or local government, they get more accountability, and better input on how rules and regulations in the first place. Backing away from WOTUS allows for more subsidiarity in governance, which allows for better governance.
Taking on this fight is yet another item on the conservative agenda for that reason. The principles of federalism will have to get reinstilled one issue at a time, and this is one very good sign that the Trump administration takes it seriously. This may not make some activist groups happy, but a rollback of WOTUS will delight farmers and businessmen in places like the Fox River Valley in Wisconsin, among others.