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Restoring the Clean Water Rule

The Biden-Harris Administration has started the legal steps to restore strong Clean Water Act protections slashed by the previous president.

Successive presidential administrations and shifting Supreme Court interpretations have fought for decades over the definition of “waters of the United States” in the federal Clean Water Act. At stake is the fate of thousands of miles of streams and their associated wetlands. These bodies of water are often those most critical to the protection of clean drinking water, fisheries, and wildlife.

The Obama Administration finalized a major solidification of these protections. Soon after, the Trump Administration reversed course, slashing the waters protected by the Clean Water Act to the lowest level in decades. Now the current administration is moving to restore strong, extensive clean water protections again.  

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Army Corps of Engineers announced they will revise the definition of protected waters “to better protect our nation’s vital water resources that support public health, environmental protection, agricultural activity, and economic growth.” The EPA reported the Trump rule had completely removed Clean Water Act protections for an estimated 18% of the country’s streams and 51% of wetlands.  

“After reviewing the Navigable Waters Protection Rule as directed by President Biden, the EPA and Department of the Army have determined that this rule is leading to significant environmental degradation,” said EPA Administrator Michael Regan. “We are committed to establishing a durable definition of ‘waters of the United States’ based on Supreme Court precedent and drawing from the lessons learned from the current and previous regulations, as well as input from a wide array of stakeholders, so we can better protect our nation’s waters, foster economic growth, and support thriving communities.”

League of Conservation Voters Deputy Legislative Director Madeleine Foote called the agencies’ announcement “a good first step in delivering on President Biden’s commitment to ensuring that everyone has access to clean, safe water, but the administration must move quickly to dismantle the dangerous Dirty Water Rule. Every day this harmful rule is in effect, it endangers the waterways our communities depend on — that is unacceptable and must stop now. For too long, Black, Brown, Indigenous, and low-income communities have borne the brunt of water pollution while corporate polluters enjoy the profits of lax protections for streams, wetlands, and other waters. We appreciate the agencies’ dedication to establishing a new rule based on science with a transparent and inclusive process, and encourage them to move expeditiously to stop the harm to our communities and the environment from the Dirty Water Rule.”  

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