How could Trump’s EPA nominee affect water?

scott-pruitt

Pruitt

In December, President-elect Donald Trump announced his intention to nominate Oklahoma attorney general Scott Pruitt to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

If confirmed by Congress, Pruitt — a Republican and frequent opponent of President Obama’s environmental policies — would oversee the 15,000-employee agency and could undo several regulations the President-elect criticized throughout his campaign.

Confirmation hearings for Pruitt were expected to begin on Jan. 18.

As expected, Democrats have vowed to fight Pruitt’s nomination, with Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer promising a torrid confirmation hearing, while Republicans have largely welcomed Trump’s pick.

Regarding water infrastructure, Trump has talked about his desire to repeal EPA’s Clean Water Rule, also known as the ‘Waters of the U.S.’ rule. The law is one of EPA’s most hotly contested regulations, which aims to expand the agency’s authority over bodies of water across the country.

Pruitt has also criticized the Waters of the U.S. rule along with Republican lawmakers who see it as a major expansion of government power and could mean more regulations for private landowners.

“This regulation usurps the state’s authority over its land and water use, and triggers numerous and costly obligations under the [Clean Water] Act for the state and its citizens,” Pruitt wrote last year in a court filing.

In November 2015, the Senate attempted to block Waters of the U.S. from going into effect by passing a bill that would repeal the rule. But the order was vetoed by President Obama, who had promised to override any attempt to block its implementation.

In May 2016, the EPA finalized its water rule redefining the meaning of “waters of the United States” under the Clean Water Act (CWA). The agency argued the redefining was necessary to clear up uncertainty caused by two past Supreme Court decisions on EPA’s CWA authority.

EPA officials went to great lengths to try to convince Congress of their new definition of “waters of the United States” and that the rule did not expand the agency’s powers or create any new permitting requirements for farmers and others most affected by the rule.

“The final rule doesn’t create any new permitting requirements for agriculture, maintains all previous exemptions and exclusions, and even adds exclusions for features like artificial lakes and ponds, water-filled depressions from construction, and grass swales—all to make clear our goal is to stay out of agriculture’s way,” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy wrote in a May blog.

But Congress and dozens of states didn’t buy the agency’s arguments.

After the rule was finalized, 32 states sued the agency to have the rule struck down, and federal lawmakers on both sides of the aisle began looking at ways to dismantle the rule. Federal court has since blocked its implementation while it is litigated.

It remains to be seen what will happen with the rule under GOP leadership of the agency.

A big part of the President-elect’s campaign on environmental issues centered around his call to roll back rules on fossil fuel production, review all existing regulations for potential repeal, put a moratorium on nearly all new regulations and require that two rules be repealed for every new rule put in place.

Pruitt has vowed to dismantle several environmental laws and is currently involved in a legal effort by 27 states to overturn Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan, the president’s primary policy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. If confirmed as EPA chief, Pruitt could carry out Trump’s campaign promises to repeal Obama’s entire executive climate change agenda, including the Clean Power Plan, which the President-elect said he will target in his first 100 days in office.

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  1. Pingback: Senate confirms EPA nominee Pruitt - Water Finance & Management

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