Final steps taken to replace Obama-era WOTUS rule


Photo by Brooklyn Wayland

Babbling creek runs through property in Cushing Oklahoma.

The Trump Administration took a crucial step to complete a years-long process to replace the 2015 Obama-era Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule that Oklahoma farmers criticized as a disastrous land grab.

In its place, the Trump administration developed the Navigable Waters Protection Rule that would clarify waters regulated by the federal government.

Published in the Federal Register on Tuesday, the new rule is scheduled to go into effect June 22.

Oklahomans will benefit from the rule change U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe said in an email.

“We needed a right-sized WOTUS rule, and that is exactly what President Trump and Administrator Wheeler delivered,” Inhofe said referring to EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler.

“The new rule will clearly define the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act in a straightforward manner, alleviating the burden farmers and landowners faced under the Obama-era rule and establishing responsible water policy,” Inhofe said.

Under the Obama Administration, temporary bodies of water were subjected to federal oversight in an attempt to reduce pollution into larger bodies of water.

However, Oklahoma farmers argued the 2015 WOTUS rule was too far-reaching. It protected small bodies of water that ran through their private property, ultimately subjecting their land to federal regulation.

The Oklahoma Farm Bureau in 2017 said the rule had nothing to do with water, but instead was a misleading land grab designed to confuse farmers and ranchers.

Under the Trump Administration the new Navigable Waters Protection Rule will leave most of the environmental regulation to state and local authorities, while clarifying which bodies of water will be federally regulated. This means Oklahoma farmers and ranchers won’t have to jump through hoops to use bodies of water already on their own land.

Wheeler said the new rule will balance water regulation between the states and Washington.

“After decades of landowners relying on expensive attorneys to determine what water on their land may or may not fall under federal regulations, or new Navigable Waters Protection Rule strikes the proper balance between Washington and the states in managing land and water resources while protecting our nation’s navigable waters, and it does so within the authority Congress provided,” he said.

U.S. Rep. Frank Lucas (R-Okla.), in a statement earlier this year in anticipation of the change, said Trump’s new WOTUS rule would be a welcome relief for Oklahoma. The congressman said the new rule will not only provide clarity on the EPA’s guidelines, but will also reduce regulation felt by Oklahoma farmers and ranchers.

Though this is a long term goal of the Trump administration, given the reaction to the introduction of the new rule in January, backlash will be met in the form of lawsuits.

California Attorney General and environmental groups have promised to challenge the new rule in court.

Attorney General Xavier Becerra said the proposed new rule would violate the Clean Water Act.

“This irrational, ill-conceived rule is yet another attempt by the Trump Administration to dismantle the critical environmental protections upon which we all rely,” Attorney General Becerra said in the press release.

He urged the EPA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers earlier this month to withdraw the rule saying many of California’s tributaries, creeks, rivers and wetlands would suffer without federal protection.

Inhofe, however, disagreed.

“The new WOTUS rule helps farmers, ranchers, homebuilders and energy producers across Oklahoma focus on their business- not red tape,” he said in an email.

Gaylord News is a reporting project of the University of Oklahoma Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication.