The Trump EPA is thankfully proposing to restore common sense to EPA regulatory authority. The agency proposes to walk back the Obama administration’s asserted authority to regulate streambeds and land depressions that are usually dry. EPA will no longer regulate wetlands unless they are “physically and meaningfully connected” to waters under EPA jurisdiction. EPA will also eliminate subjective criteria for determining whether land or water features qualify under navigable waters jurisdiction, granting individuals more certainty about how they can use their property. These corrections are long overdue, and represent another example of President Trump keeping campaign promises to reduce environmental and regulatory overreach.
Environmental activists are sounding an alarm about potential environmental harms, but their arguments are weak. EPA will still regulate all navigable waters, as well as meaningful permanent and intermittent tributaries to navigable waters. Also, very importantly, all 50 states have their own environmental laws and regulations, allowing regulation above and beyond navigable waters as defined by EPA. For normally dry streambeds, isolated depressions that only occasionally hold water, and other land features that the Obama administration sought to regulate, regulations will once again come from state and local governments that are more responsive and accountable to the people and communities being regulated.
EPA’s proposed rule will continue to provide strong environmental protection for the waterways Congress authorized EPA to regulate. At the same time, the proposed rule will roll back executive branch overreach and protect the rights of homeowners and landowners.