WASHINGTON – A federal judge on Monday overturned a Trump-era environmental rule that significantly limited federal restrictions on pollution of millions of waterways, wetlands and marshes across the country.
The Biden administration had already started the long process of canceling the policy, which President Donald J. Trump established in 2020 to appeal to real estate developers and farmers. Mr. Trump’s policies have allowed pollutants such as fertilizers, pesticides and industrial chemicals to be released into small streams and wetlands.
But on Monday, Judge Rosemary Marquez of the United States District Court for the District of Arizona found “fundamental and substantial flaws” in the Trump administration’s policies and said she was in conflict with the Clean Water Act of 1972. It warned of the “possibility of serious environmental damage” if the Trump rule remained in place.
Trump’s policies have allowed more than 300 projects across the country to proceed without an environmental permit, the judge noted. Many of these projects were in arid states such as New Mexico and Arizona.
The court ruling is the latest in a series of rulings by federal judges that overturned Trump’s environmental policies after noting that the administration had frequently ignored the analysis of career federal scientists.
In her order, Justice Marquez wrote that the Trump Water Rule, which was jointly drafted by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers, appeared to ignore the EPA’s own scientific findings which indicate that ‘Allowing pollution in small bodies of water could seriously harm the health of large bodies of water and their ecosystems.
An EPA spokesperson said the agency was reviewing the decision, but declined to comment.
The Trump Rule was a revision of an earlier rule promulgated by the Obama administration in 2015, known as the Waters of the United States. This rule used the authority of the Clean Water Act of 1972 to protect about 60 percent of the country’s waterways, including large bodies of water such as the Chesapeake Bay, the Mississippi River, and the Puget Sound. , as well as smaller springs, wetlands, seasonal streams. and streams that flow temporarily underground.
Mr Trump repealed the policy in 2019, calling it “one of the most ridiculous regulations of all” and saying its repeal made farmers cry in gratitude. A year later, the EPA finalized its replacement policy, known as the Navigable Waters Protection Rule, which removed protections from more than half of the nation’s wetlands and hundreds of thousands of miles of upland waterways by narrowing the definition of what constitutes “United States water” that deserves federal protection.
With Trump and Obama’s rules off the books, the nation’s waters are now protected by a 1986 rule, which environmentalists, farmers and developers have lamented as so contradictory and poorly drafted that it has resulted in thousands of legal disputes over water pollution that have dragged on for years.
“It was horribly confusing,” said Mark Ryan, a former EPA lawyer. “It took a very complicated and lengthy process” to determine whether water bodies qualified for federal pollution protection.
This summer, Michael S. Regan, the administrator of the EPA, announced his intention to start developing a new water protection rule that could be completed by next year.