KINGMAN – Local politicians applauded President Donald Trump’s signing of an executive order Tuesday that will rein in what some see as harmful rules of “Waters of the United States,” or WOTUS.
The order would revamp the Obama administration’s controversial rule under the Clean Water Act, which was passed by Congress in 1972 to protect “navigable waters,” a term defined as “waters of the United States, including the territorial seas.”
The CWA left it up to the EPA to define the term, which it did in 1986. Since then, interpretations of Supreme Court rulings have removed some waters from federal protection and caused confusion about which waters and wetlands remain protected.
Mohave County Supervisor Buster Johnson, who sits on the National Association of Counties Public Lands Steering Committee, opposed the rule when it was first drafted in 2011.
“This proposed rule as written would have potentially increased the number of manmade, county-owned ditches that come under federal jurisdiction,” Johnson said.
It would have defined dried-up ditches and washes in Arizona as “waters of the United States,” which would require developers to obtain permits not only resulting in more costs, but also possibly delaying projects while they wait for federal permitting, Johnson explained.
One example of extreme overreach by the government regarding the rule is the case of Peter and Frankie Smith who were trying to clean up a dry creek bed on their property in Santa Fe. The Army Corps of Engineers had claimed that the creek bed fed into the Rio Grande and by cleaning it up the Smiths could have harmed a federally-endangered silvery minnow living in the Rio Grande.
The couple challenged the Corps, stating that the dry arroyo was 25 miles from the Rio Grande and there was no evidence to prove it affected the Rio Grande. After expensive litigation, the Corps withdrew their filing in federal court.
“No one wants to damage the ecosystem or Colorado River, but common sense must be used when dealing with dry river beds that are tens of miles away,” Johnson said.
Trump’s order requires the EPA and the Corps to restart and rewrite the rule to include more local input and a more common-sense approach.
U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., commended the president for taking swift action in requiring departmental review of the Obama administration’s WOTUS rule.
“By sending EPA back to the drawing board, the president is taking an important step toward what my colleagues and I have long been working to do: protect our nation’s waterways without overbearing regulations that treat every dry ditch in Arizona like it is the Colorado River,” Flake said in a statement from Washington.
The administration’s action comes during a week in which Flake has introduced seven bills aimed at easing burdensome regulations and providing more economic development and infrastructure development in rural Arizona.