LITTLE ROCK, La. (Press Release) – (1/24/20) Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge commended the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for its final Navigable Waters Protection Rule released Thursday, which includes a revised definition of “waters of the United States” (WOTUS). It replaces the previous administration’s WOTUS definition, which Rutledge had challenged in a lawsuit with her colleagues from other states. President Donald J. Trump repealed that previous definition in 2019.
“President Trump listened to our concerns and has kept his promise to replace the Obama-era definition of ‘waters of the United States’ and has given the power back to Arkansans to determine how best to protect our environment and promote economic growth.” said Attorney General Rutledge. “This streamlined definition will give clarity and protect Arkansas’s key industries. I look forward to leading Arkansans as we work with our federal and state partners on ways to steward the Natural State’s waterways.”
The EPA’s final Navigable Waters Protection Rule clearly distinguishes between federal and state authority under the Clean Water Act. The Rule also outlines four clear categories of waters defined under WOTUS, including territorial seas and traditional navigable waters; tributaries, lakes, ponds and impoundments of jurisdictional waters; and adjacent wetlands. The final rule also includes clear exclusions for many water features that have not historically been regulated.
The Obama-era rule was finalized in June 2015. It allowed the EPA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to assert federal authority over a vast number of small bodies of water, roadside ditches, short-lived streams and any other area where water may flow once every 100 years.
Prior to that rule’s finalization, in March 2015 Rutledge testified in front of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry. In her testimony, she urged the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers to withdraw the rule because of the negative impact it would have on Arkansas farmers. In 2016, agriculture added $21.4 billion to the Arkansas economy, according to the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service.
Rutledge was also part of a coalition that helped secure an injunction in August 2015, which blocked enforcement of the rule. This allowed the new administration to review the rule.
In 2017, President Trump signed an executive order directing the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers to review the WOTUS definition, begin efforts to rescind or significantly revise it and take appropriate steps in ongoing litigation.
Then in 2019, according to President Trump’s direction, the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers repealed the Obama-era rule and asked for comments on a proposed WOTUS definition. Rutledge joined a 17-state coalition that supported the 2019 proposal. Thursday’s final rule is largely the same as that 2019 proposal.
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