Murky Obama WOTUS Definition Cleared Up by Combined EPA and Army Proposal
What is WOTUS? As any informed professional involved in the mining, cement, aggregate, or engineering sectors can tell you, it's the anagram for "Waters of the United States." The murky definition of WOTUS left behind by the Obama era's 2015 EPA is about to be cleared up, based on a December 2018 press release at the Environmental Protection Agency.
The new WOTUS rule is the response to President Trump's 2017 Executive Order stating it's in the national interest to protect the nation's navigable waterways from pollution while fostering economic growth by eliminating regulatory uncertainty.
According to the EPA Press Office, the new definition will clarify the difference between state protected waterways and federally protected waterways. The Obama era definition required landowners to expend thousands of dollars on legal and engineering consultants to determine whether a project would require a federal permit or not according to EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler.
In fact, the new straightforward definition is anticipated to initiate a host of economic and environmental benefits including:
- Significant cost savings
- Protection of the nation's navigable waters
- Helping to sustain economic growth
- Reducing barriers to business growth and new development.
WOTUS, under the new definition proposed, would include "traditional navigable waters, tributaries to those waters, certain ditches, certain lakes and ponds, impoundments of jurisdictional waters, and wetlands adjacent to jurisdictional waters," all of which will be federally regulated.
Just as important for landowners and industry, the definition clarifies what is not covered by WOTUS. These include sources which only contain rainfall, groundwater, waste treatment systems, stormwater control features, most roadside or farm ditches and converted cropland.
States and tribes would now have more flexibility to manage their own land and water resources, free from existing regulations on water resources within their borders, while the new WOTUS definition protects national navigable waters as originally intended by Congress when it enacted The Clean Water Act.
R.D. James, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, summed up the situation saying, " This proposed definition provides a common-sense approach to managing our nation's waters."
Reaction by The Portland Cement Association (PCA)
The PCA and their president and CEO Mike Ireland were quick to endorse the new rule on WOTUS in a PCA news release of their own on December 12, 2018. Ireland cites the confusion and EPA overreach created by conflicting Supreme Court rulings on the Clean Water Act, which "left manufacturers without a clear and consistent set of criteria for when the law would impact their businesses."
The PCA endorsement applauded the certainty provided by the WOTUS revision which will allow businesses and individuals to use their private property productively while enabling states to ensure sustainable and productive land use. Ireland pointed out that for the cement industry specifically, the Obama EPA's previous attempts to clarify the WOTUS definition only resulted in more federal government overreach which encumbered the ability of cement manufacturers to provide enough cement to support the nation's infrastructure.
CEO Ireland also specified, in particular, the exclusion of quarries from the WOTUS definition as a "common sense provision" that will enable the cement industry to provide resilient and sustainable materials to lead the effort to improve the nation's declining infrastructure.
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