President Donald Trump signed an executive order Tuesday to revamp or rescind one of the Obama administration’s most controversial regulations, a rule that defined the rivers, streams and wetlands that are protected by the Clean Water Act.
The order, the first in series expected to be issued by Trump to gut President Barack Obama’s environmental policies, calls on EPA to begin an overhaul of the Waters of the U.S. rule — a regulation that has been sharply criticized by Republicans and the agricultural industry as an example of federal overreach.
Trump, joined at the White House by farmers, his new EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and several conservative senators, said his executive order would “pave the way for the elimination of this very destructive and horrible rule.”
The order instructs EPA and Army Corps of Engineers to review the rule with the goal of rescinding or revising it — a process that opens the door to legal challenges by environmental groups or states who backed the rule. It also proposes creating more limited standard than one used by Obama’s EPA to determine the scope of federal water protections in the future.
The Obama WOTUS rule is currently on hold as its navigates a spate of legal challenges, and Trump’s order also instructs the attorney general to seek to freeze those courtroom proceedings while the review is underway.
The Trump administration could decide to write its own rule aimed at clearing up long-running confusion about which water bodies are protected under the Clean Water Act. If Trump’s EPA chooses that path, the order calls for it to use the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s reading of how far federal power should reach under the 1972 law.