Today’s announcement from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that it would initiate Clean Water Act rulemaking processes to revise the definition of “Waters of the United States” (WOTUS) makes a start toward undoing destructive impacts of the Trump administration’s Dirty Water Rule. The process is designed to first restore pre-2015 protections and then establish a new definition of what constitutes WOTUS. But that process will take time.  

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Puget Soundkeeper is glad to see unequivocal federal recognition of the significant environmental degradation caused by the Trump-era rule. And we are thankful to see steps taken toward returning waterway protections. But we are disappointed by the process selected by the Biden administration. Instead of vacating the Trump rule outright and immediately, this process leaves the bad rule in place for some time while thousands of water bodies remain at risk of pollution and destruction. The EPA’s new plan involves, for the third time in as many administrations, diving into yet another rulemaking process that will involve experts from every watershed in the nation weighing in on any newly considered definitions.

“We welcome the Biden administration’s commitment to protecting clean water and the communities that rely on healthy watersheds – a commitment needed now more than ever,” said Sean Dixon, Executive Director at Puget Soundkeeper. “Puget Soundkeeper will continue to fight for clean water, will engage in this new process with our watershed-wide partners, and will hold the administration to task as needed.” 

Puget Soundkeeper and partners are engaged in litigation on this issue, over both the 2015 Clean Water Rule (defense) and the 2020 Dirty Water Rule (offense). Both cases are presently stayed in federal court. We are represented in these actions by Earthjustice.