Trump administration delays expansion of clean water rule

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration on Wednesday delayed implementation of an Obama-era clean water rule by another two years to give the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers more time to do away with it.

The move follows a Supreme Court ruling last week that said legal challenges to the Waters of the U.S. rule should be decided in federal district courts. That will result in the lifting of a stay issued by an appeals court blocking the 2015 rule from going into effect.

The rule expanded the definitions for wetlands and small waterways under the Clean Water Act — prompting opposition from agribusiness, mining and industry groups. The expansion was intended to reduce sources of pollution dumped in the small tributaries of larger lakes and rivers.

President Donald Trump issued an executive order nearly a year ago ordering a review of the WOTUS rule. By moving the effective date to 2020, the Trump administration buys itself more time to issue a replacement.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt routinely cites WOTUS as what he sees as regulatory overreach by the prior administration.

"EPA is taking action to reduce confusion and provide certainty to America's farmers and ranchers," Pruitt said Wednesday, according to a statement. "The 2015 WOTUS rule developed by the Obama administration will not be applicable for the next two years, while we work through the process of providing long-term regulatory certainty across all 50 states about what waters are subject to federal regulation."

Pruitt's fellow Republicans quickly praised the two-year delay.

"The Obama administration's outrageous Waters of the United States rule would have put backyard ponds, puddles and farm fields under Washington's control," said Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, chairman of the Senate environment committee. "This delay gives the Trump administration time to revise this rule."

Environmentalists predicted the rewrite will let polluters off the hook.

"The Trump administration is playing politics with our drinking water," said Janette Brimmer, a lawyer with the legal advocacy group Earthjustice. "We need to protect the streams and wetlands that provide the drinking water of one in three Americans. This delay is an obvious attempt to make it easier for corporate interests to pollute our waterways.

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Follow Associated Press environmental reporter Michael Biesecker at http://twitter.com/mbieseck

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