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(INDIANAPOLIS) – The Environmental Protection Agency has scrapped a controversial Obama Administration rule on water regulation.

The Waters of the United States rule broadened enforcement of the federal Clean Water Act, encompassing land within reach of waterways. Farm and business groups have criticized WOTUS from its inception in 2015 as federal overreach, both in terms of how it was applied and whether the EPA had that power to begin with. 

Indiana Builders Association CEO Rick Wajda says a quarter of what you pay for a house can be traced to regulation. In the case of WOTUS, he says, that took the form of wetlands permits. But Wajda and the Indiana Farm Bureau’s Justin Schneider say WOTUS wasn’t merely too strict, but too uncertain. Schneider maintains issues like where a ditch begins and ends were poorly defined, with the result that you couldn’t be sure whether the EPA would consider something part of a wetland or not. In some cases, he says a strict reading of the regulation would place a wetland in the middle of a farm field.

WOTUS was already on hold in Indiana, one of 27 states where federal courts had blocked it as an intrusion on state authority. 
EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler announced the repeal of the rule in Washington at the same time the agency’s regional administrator hosted a celebratory announcement of the repeal in Indy. Cathy Stepp says a Reagan-era rule will be in effect for now while EPA finalizes a new version restoring more authority to state regulators. She says she’s confident state environmental officials will ensure water quality doesn’t suffer.

The environmental group Food and Water Action doesn’t share that confidence, blasting the repeal as a gift to “our nation’s worst polluters.”

Indiana Senator Mike Braun and Representative  Larry Bucshon, both Republicans, issued statements applauding the repeal. Braun has introduced a bill which would define the limits of federal clean-water jurisdiction by law, not executive-branch regulation.

(Photo: Aneese/Thinkstock)