A federal judge has nullified a controversial Trump-era rule regarding the scope of waterways under federal protection. In a reversal from previous federal policies, that Trump-era rule significantly narrowed the range of waterways that were under federal supervision, which left vast areas more vulnerable to potential pollution and degradation. Now, U.S. District Judge Rosemary Márquez has concluded that Trump officials were guilty of “serious errors” when putting the rule together, as summarized by The Washington Post. She also said that leaving the Trump-era provisions in place could culminate in “serious environmental harm.” Thus, she’s ruled against them.
As aptly explained by the Post, the “ruling in the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona, which applies nationwide, will afford new protections for drinking-water supplies for millions of Americans, as well as for thousands of wildlife species that depend on America’s wetland acreage.” Across a period of almost ten months, three-quarters of the water bodies that were reviewed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers were found to not be subject to federal oversight under the Trump-era rule, which underscores the scope of the problem. The Trump administration’s framework left sizable areas in jeopardy.
The Biden administration has already announced intentions to write a replacement for these Trump-era provisions, but the rule from the Trump administration had so far remained in effect while Biden’s team worked on its replacement. Efforts by both administrations operate under the authority of the 1972 law known as the Clean Water Act, which outlawed polluting “waters of the United States” without possessing a permit. The issue is that the law doesn’t fully define what falls under the category of the “waters of the United States,” leaving federal officials to define the idea in line with the preferences of respective presidential administrations.
Obama’s administration included so-called “ephemeral” streams, which emerge following rainstorms, in the range of waterways under federal supervision, while Trump’s team essentially reversed that move. With this new ruling, water protection standards from the 1980s — rather than the Obama-era provisions — will be in force as the process to formally enact Biden-era guidelines moves forward. Current Environmental Protection Agency chief Michael Regan has said that officials “are committed to establishing a durable definition of ‘waters of the United States’ based on Supreme Court precedent and drawing from current and previous regulations… so we can better protect our nation’s waters, foster economic growth and support thriving communities.”