Wasatch Environmental Update for August 26, 2018
By John Worlock
“WOTUS, WOTUS? What’s a WOTUS?”
We’ve been perplexed recently, as we’ve read about something called WOTUS. Yes, that’s right, WOTUS, spelled W-O-T-U-S. Of course we have been familiar with similar-sounding words, like POTUS, SCOTUS AND FLOTUS. But WOTUS was new, so we had to study it a little bit.
Here’s the answer: It’s “Waters of the United States,” W-O-T-U-S, and they’ve been in the news recently as the Interior Department and the Army Corps of Engineers has promulgated a new rule that would roll us back a few years and rescind their 2015 definition of the meaning of Waters of the United States.
So then, what ARE the Waters of the United States, and why are they subject to government rules? The answer lies in the Clean Water Act, the short name of a 1972 amendment to the Federal Water Pollution Control Act. It was meant, as its name implies, to prevent pollution of the nation’s surface waters. Much of the subsequent rule making has been various attempt to define and delimit the waters that must be protected from pollution.
Into this fray has recently stepped the Congressional Western Caucus, a caucus of some 96 Republican Congresspersons, formed, as they say, to fight undue federal interference with rural, agricultural, timber, water, mining and hunting values that had been a part of American society for centuries. They have grown in size and importance over their 25 years, and have recently been celebrating two events related to the Clean Water Act.
First is the recent proposal by the administration to amend the WOTUS rule, because, they say, otherwise the rule “would put the Environmental Protection Agency in charge of every piece of land occasionally containing any amount of concentrated water, practically down to the puddle level.” That certainly sounds to us like federal overreach, if true.
The second celebration is the passage of HR 6147, an omnibus appropriation bill that contains language effectively repealing the Obama Administration’s hated WOTUS rule. This, if it passes the Senate, would reduce the proposal to amend the rule to irrelevancy.
That’s the up-to-date news about WOTUS. We’ll wait to see what the Senate and a new congress want to do with that legislation.