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Trump Orders Review of Clean Water Rule that Many Farm Groups Oppose

Kristofor Husted/Harvest Public Media file photo
Then-administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency Gina McCarthy visits a Missouri farm in 2014 to highlight the Clean Water Rule.

President Donald Trump issued an executive order Tuesday directing the Environmental Protection Agency to revise a controversial environmental rule opposed by many Midwest farm groups.

Trump ordered new EPA administrator Scott Pruitt to formally revise the Obama Administration’s 2015 Clean Water Rule, also known as the Waters of the U.S. Rule, which was meant to explain which rivers, streams and creeks are subject to regulation by the EPA.

The EPA used the Clean Water Rule wants to clarify a portion of the Clean Water Act to give the agency more control over millions of acres of wetlands and streams. The agency spent months trying to sell the regulations to farmers, but many did not bite.

The American Farm Bureau Federation and its many state-level counterparts pushed to change the rule, along with other farm groups, saying it was a federal overreach onto farmers’ land and contending that the rule would allow the agency to dictate how farmers use certain bodies of water on farmland.

“We think it’s an opportunity for EPA to listen to farmers and look at the fine print of the regulation that the Obama Administration did and then, ultimately, to get it right -- to get something that works for the environment and for farmers,” says Don Parrish, senior director of regulatory relations at the AFBF.

Many environmental groups, however, say the rule is necessary to combat water pollution, especially water pollution caused by farms and ranches.

“The problem is going to be there,” says Craig Cox of the Environmental Working Group, which supported the rule. “The problem is going to get worse. The problem is going to cry out for a solution.”

Trump on his own can’t repeal the rule. The executive order directs the new EPA administrator to revise it, which could take years.

Parrish says U.S. farmers will likely see Pruitt and the EPA working more with state agencies to set up state water regulations.

“We look at this as the first step of many that are going to have to take place in this area,” Parrish says.


Harvest Public Media’s Jeremy Bernfeld contributed to this report.

Kristofor Husted is a senior reporter at KBIA in Columbia, Mo. Previously Husted reported for NPR’s Science Desk in Washington and Harvest Public Media. Husted was a 2013 fellow with the Institute for Journalism and Natural Resources and a 2015 fellow for the Institute for Journalism and Justice. He’s won regional and national Edward R. Murrow, PRNDI and Sigma Delta Chi awards. Husted also is an instructor at the Missouri School of Journalism. He received a B.S. in cell biology from UC Davis and an M.S. in journalism from Northwestern University.