One of Trump’s worst regulations just got invalidated by a court

On Monday, a federal judge in Arizona overturned one of the Trump administration’s most destructive environmental laws, the Navigable Waters Protection Rule (NWPR), which removed clean water safeguards for 60 percent of America’s streams and 110 million acres of wetlands. The verdict restores the country’s rivers to 1986 levels of protection, while also allowing the Biden administration to implement substantially stricter ones.

The NWPR was implemented by the Environmental Protection Agency in 2019, following former President Trump’s campaign on the false premise that the Obama-era definition of “waters of the United States” (WOTUS) was burdening farmers unnecessarily. The EPA gathered 1,200 scientific reports in 2015 and acted on the consensus that ephemeral streams—those that only flow after rain—and wetlands needed to be protected in order to safeguard the major waterways they flow into. That rule included specific exemptions for the agriculture business, which Trump conveniently overlooked when labelling the action “one of the worst examples of government regulation” and ordering the EPA to rescind it during his first days in office.

The NWPR was declared unconstitutional after six Indigenous tribes, represented by Earthjustice, an environmental nonprofit legal group, sued to have it overturned, claiming that it disregarded a large body of scientific evidence and jeopardised federally protected access to clean drinking water.

The judgement hinges on the concept of WOTUS. While an act of Congress is required to amend the Clean Water Act, the definition determining what types of water it applies to can be changed by the EPA, leaving it vulnerable to political manoeuvring.

“The gravity of the Agencies’ errors in enacting the NWPR, the likelihood that the Agencies will change the NWPR’s definition of ‘waters of the United States,’ and the risk of serious environmental harm if the NWPR remains in place upon remand all weigh in favour of remand with vacatur,” writes Judge Rosemary Márquez of the Arizona district court in her decision.

“The court recognised that the Dirty Water Rule’s serious legal and scientific errors were causing irreparable harm to our nation’s waters and would continue to do so unless it was vacated,” says Janette Brimmer, an Earthjustice attorney who represented the Pascua Yaqui Tribe, Tohono O’odham Nation, Quinault Indian Nation, Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin, and Fond du Lac Band of Laksa. “While the Biden administration draughts a new regulation, this commonsense judgement allows the Clean Water Act to continue to protect all of our waters.”

According to the Washington Post, there are already 333 projects in the works that would have required assessment under Obama-era clean water rules but would not have done so under Trump’s rule. Their future is now in doubt.

The court decision comes as the Biden administration works on its own definition of WOTUS and develops safeguards that may withstand challenges from future Republican presidents. The EPA recognises that this action is in the works, but declined to comment further.

Leave a Comment