In a long-promised move undoing yet another disastrous Obama-era regulation, the Trump administration is moving Thursday to repeal part of its predecessor’s “Clean Water Act,” a controversial 2015 rule that granted the federal government broad access over the country’s waterways.
Allegedly designed to oversee standards for drinking water and protect public health against pollution, in practice, the regulation ended up shifting control to the government over water sources like small ponds, creeks, irrigation ditches, and just about anything that could be interpreted as “wetlands” on private land, including farms and ranches. Critics of the measure argued the government’s overly broad and vague definition of “waters” included too many small water sources located on private property that had little to no effect on public health, but wound up dragging landowners into court for alleged violations of the hard-to-understand rule.
For example, Montana resident and U.S. Navy veteran Joseph D. Robertson spent a year and a half in prison and was fined $130,000 for allegedly violating the rule when he dug fire protection ponds on his own land without federal Clean Water Act permits. Even after his death in 2018, the government threatened Robertson’s widow with paying his outstanding bill.
The Trump administration says it will rework the definition of “waterways” to include a more understandable and scaled-back version that will reduce confusion over what constitutes federally protected waters and what doesn’t.