The Biden administration finalized revised environmental regulations impacting bodies of water on Tuesday, in response to a Supreme Court decision in May. The original version of the regulations was upended by the court's ruling, which stated that the federal government's definition of "waters of the United States" must be restricted to water sources with a "continuous surface connection" to major bodies of water.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers jointly announced the new regulations, called Waters of the United States (WOTUS), and emphasized their commitment to following the law and implementing the Clean Water Act to protect American water sources from pollution and degradation. EPA Administrator Michael Regan stated that while he was disappointed by the Supreme Court's decision, the EPA and Army have an obligation to apply the decision alongside state co-regulators, Tribes, and partners.
Regan also reassured that the EPA would continue to ensure clean water for all and would work with existing authorities and resources to help communities, states, and Tribes protect clean water sources. However, the EPA is facing criticism for not going far enough to conform its regulations to the Supreme Court ruling. Republican Senator Shelley Moore Capito stated that the Biden administration's rule lacked public outreach and real transparency, and believed it would likely be rejected in the courts.
The Waters Advocacy Coalition, a group representing small businesses, farmers, ranchers, homebuilders, and manufacturers, echoed Capito's concerns. They stated that the revised rule did not comply adequately with Supreme Court precedent and the limits on regulatory jurisdiction set forth in the Clean Water Act. The coalition also criticized the lack of public input and engagement in the revision process.
The Biden administration's revision to the environmental regulations comes after the Supreme Court's decision in the Sackett v. EPA case. This case involved a couple, Michael and Chantell Sackett, who were prohibited by the EPA from building a home near a wetland due to the Clean Water Act. After the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Sacketts, the EPA was required to revise the regulations.
The revised rule issued by the EPA weakens the regulation of waterway pollution to conform with the Supreme Court ruling. The Department of the Army Corps of Engineers issued a final rule that amends the previous standard issued in January, which revised the definition of "waters of the United States" under the Clean Water Act. The new amendments remove the "significant nexus test" from consideration when identifying tributaries and other waters as federally protected. This test was meant to identify waters that significantly affect the chemical or biological integrity of traditional navigable waters and interstate waters.
Critics argue that the court's decision and the subsequent revision of the regulations leave critical wetlands and other waters vulnerable to pollution and destruction. They emphasize the need for Congress to strengthen clean water protections.
Overall, the Biden administration's revision of environmental regulations has sparked controversy and debate, with concerns raised about the limitations on federal jurisdiction and the potential impacts on water quality and protection. The debate will likely continue as stakeholders evaluate the implications of the revised regulations and consider potential legal challenges.