Is it possible to have cleaner waterways across the country and, at the same time, less federal regulation? Fortunately, for a wide swath of the economy — from farming to mining, home building to construction — the answer is yes. Not just any water quality policy will accomplish these twin goals, however. It will be one that relies on common sense and acknowledges that states already lead in regulating their own waterways.
Thankfully, the Trump administration’s recent action to redefine the “waters of the United States” (WOTUS) does just that. The revised WOTUS rule dramatically reduces the burdens placed on farmers and other property owners. It’s a positive step that rejects the heavy-handed, overzealous definition imposed during the Obama years that defined each body of water — whether they be ditches, gullies or isolated wetlands — as requiring protection under the Clean Water Act.
The prior definition of the waters of the United States not only overstepped the EPA’s legal authority, it puts far too much focus on marginal waters when our regulators should be focused on the rivers and other important waterways that need federal oversight. Refocusing the definition restores balance to local land use decisions, putting states back in the driver’s seat, and bringing logic and restraint back to an issue that had seemingly gone off the rails.
A simple question can be posed to illustrate: What will make a bigger difference to pollution prevention, regulating discharges into water that might be in your backyard only because of a heavy rain, or focusing on large bodies of water like rivers and bays?
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