The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Army Corps of Engineers are set to roll back the regulatory definition of “waters of the United States” according to a proposal published on June 27. The definition was amended under the controversial 2015 “Clean Water Rule”, which critics charged would extend federal regulatory protection to isolated ponds and wetlands, usually dry depressions with no conceivable connection to interstate waterways, even puddles formed in a heavy rain. The 2015 rule has been stayed since October of that year, so the definition previously in place has remained in effect. This proposed rule will re-codify the previous definition as it existed prior to the 2015 rulemaking.
The agencies intend a two-step process, starting with the proposed return to the regulatory definition in place before the 2015 rule change and currently effective, to be followed by a “substantive reevaluation” of the definition.
The “waters of the US” definition drives various regulatory programs, affecting for example land development, dredging and filling, and oil spill prevention, control and countermeasure planning.