An executive order by President Donald Trump mandating a review of an Obama-era rule aimed at protecting small streams and wetlands from development and pollution has drawn partisan praise and criticism, as well as ire from environmentalists.
Trump’s order “illustrates his commitment to correcting the overreach of the previous administration,” U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, said.
Collins said the rule as pushed by former President Barack Obama “would have a devastating effect on farmers, ranchers and small businesses in Northeast Georgia and across the country at no clear benefit to the environment.”
He said the rule review “is a critical step toward reining in overregulation and restoring certainty for hard-working Americans. I hope this order will be a catalyst for further environmental regulatory reform.”
Dale Caldwell, headwaters watershed protection specialist in Chattahoochee Riverkeeper’s Gainesville office, took a different stance.
“The rule … is portrayed as a large burden to farmers and landowners, and as federal overreach,” he said. “In reality, the rule wasn’t created to expand jurisdiction, but rather to provide clarification to what waters are jurisdictional by better defining the term ‘tributaries.’
“This clarification eliminates confusion, disputes and court cases. The rule does not add any new requirements for agriculture or interfere with or change private property rights.”
Caldwell added: “It is extremely unfortunate that this administration is undermining all of the efforts and safeguards put into the Clean Water Rule.”
The order, signed at the White House Tuesday, instructs the Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers to review a rule that redefined “waters of the United States” protected under the Clean Water Act to include smaller creeks and wetlands.
The order asks the heads of the agencies to publish a proposed rule rescinding or revising the waters rule for notice and comment — the first step in what is likely to be a yearslong administrative review process that many expect to end up at the Supreme Court.
At a White House signing ceremony, the president called the rule, which has never been implemented because of a series of lawsuits, “one of the worst examples of federal regulation” that he said “has truly run amok.”
“It’s been a disaster,” he went on, claiming that the EPA had decided it could regulate “nearly every puddle or every ditch on a farmer’s land or any place else that they decide.”
Farmers and landowners have criticized the rule, saying there are already too many government regulations that affect their businesses, and Republicans have been working to thwart it since its inception.
But Democrats have argued that it safeguards drinking water for millions of Americans and clarifies confusion about which streams, tributaries and wetlands should be protected in the wake of decadeslong uncertainty despite two Supreme Court rulings.
The Obama administration had said the rules would safeguard drinking water for 117 million Americans, and that 1 in 3 Americans get their drinking water from rivers, lakes and reservoirs that are at risk of pollution from upstream sources.
Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black has been a longtime fierce opponent.
“The last thing that (farmers) need is another mandate, another long reach of the federal arm of government down on their land to try to control every drop of water that falls on their property,” he said in November 2015.
He applauded Trump’s executive order.
“As the head of a regulatory agency, I believe it is our responsibility to enforce the law through rules and regulations, not to create the law through rules and regulations,” he said Wednesday.
“This expanded authority gave the federal government the ability to dictate how people can use their personal property and farmland around these small, insignificant collections of water, and it circumvented the will of Congress.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.