by Greg Walcher, E&E Legal Senior Policy Fellow
As appearing in the Daily Sentinel

This week the Trump administration released its “final” version of the new regulation defining exactly what waters are regulated by the federal Clean Water Act, under the section known as Waters of the United States (WOTUS). But is anything in government ever really “final?”

Officially, this is the final legal step in ending a lengthy argument started by the Obama EPA in 2015, when it issued a “new interpretation” of WOTUS. Officials at the time said the new rule gave EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers “broader authority over the nation’s waterways.” But it wasn’t just the nation’s waterways — it was virtually all water, including waters explicitly exempted by the Clean Water Act itself. Last September the Trump EPA officially withdrew the Obama rule, which had already been blocked in 26 states by several federal courts, which found that it illegally reached beyond the government’s authority. The preliminary version of this new replacement rule was published in January.

Repealing a regulation, though, is roughly the same process as creating a new one. That requires advance publication, time for public comments, agency responses, and lots of meetings. That process “ends” with publication of the final decision, so many observers are calling this week’s announcement “the beginning of the end” of the controversy. They know it isn’t the absolute end, because it will unquestionably be the subject of protracted environmental industry lawsuits, which will drag on through numerous courts for several years.

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