June 30, 2022

WASHINGTON – A federal judge on Monday overturned a Trump-era environmental rule that drastically restricted federal restrictions on polluting millions of streams, wetlands and swamps across the country.

The Biden administration had already embarked on the lengthy process of reversing the policies President Donald J. Trump put in place in 2020 to please property developers and farmers. Mr Trump’s policy allowed pollutants such as fertilizers, pesticides and industrial chemicals to be dumped into smaller streams and wetlands.

But on Monday, Judge Rosemary Marquez of the US District Court for the Arizona District found “fundamental, substantial flaws” in the Trump administration’s policy and said it was in conflict with the 1972 Clean Water Act. She warned of the “possibility of serious environmental damage” if the Trump rule remained in place.

Trump policy allowed more than 300 projects across the country to proceed without environmental permits, the judge noted. Many of these projects were in arid states like New Mexico and Arizona.

The court ruling is the latest in a series of decisions by federal judges that undermined Trump’s environmental policies after finding that the government had often ignored analysis by career federal scholars.

In her order, Judge Márquez wrote that the Trump Water Rule, co-authored by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers, appears to disregard the EPA’s own scientific evidence suggesting that small water pollution could be harmful to health larger bodies of water and their ecosystems.

An EPA spokesman said the agency was reviewing the ruling, but declined to comment.

The Trump Rule was a revision of an earlier rule promulgated by the Obama administration in 2015 known as the Waters of the United States. This rule used the authority of the Clean Water Act of 1972 to protect approximately 60 percent of the country’s waterways, including large bodies of water such as the Chesapeake Bay, Mississippi, and Puget Sound, as well as smaller headwaters, wetlands, and seasonal streams and creeks that are temporary run underground.

Mr Trump repealed the 2019 directive, calling it “one of the most ridiculous regulations of all” and claiming that its repeal made farmers cry in gratitude. A year later, the EPA finalized its replacement policy, known as the Navigable Waters Protection Rule, which removed protection for more than half of the country’s wetlands and hundreds of thousands of miles of upland streams by defining what is a “water of the United” States “that deserve federal protection.

With both Trump and Obama rules out of the books, the nation’s waters are now protected by a 1986 rule that environmentalists, farmers and developers alike have lamented as so contradicting and poorly written that they are by the thousands Legal disputes over water pollution that have dragged on for years have resulted.

“It was awfully confusing,” said Mark Ryan, a former EPA attorney. “It was a very complicated and time-consuming process” to determine whether bodies of water are qualified for federal protection against pollution.

That summer, Michael S. Regan, the EPA administrator, announced plans to begin drafting a new water conservation rule that could be completed by next year.