Changes in water regulations under the Trump Administration

Since taking office, President Donald Trump has made environmental deregulation a priority.

President Trump has made environmental deregulation a priority. (Alex Brandon/AP)

President Trump has made environmental deregulation a priority. (Alex Brandon/AP)

President Donald Trump just keeps rolling back environmental regulations.

“We took regulations off that allows us to do things we would never have been able to do,” the president told Philadelphians. But what, exactly, has changed?

Here’s a list of the water regulations the Trump administration has overturned, suspended or replaced.

Waters of the U.S. Rule

A photo of a Delmarva bay in spring shows the wetland flooded. In summer and fall this same wetland is dry. This isolated wetland falls under the Waters of the U.S. Rule. (DNREC)

In 2015, the EPA under President Barack Obama issued the Clean Water Rule (also called the Waters of the United States rule or WOTUS), which expanded the definition of which waters fall under U.S. federal jurisdiction. It was meant to clarify which waters were protected by Clean Water Act — more specifically, it expanded that protection to small tributaries and wetlands, including so-called ephemeral and intermittent streams, which only appear during or after a rainfall. But the law became ensnared in litigation and as of late 2018 was being applied in only 22 states.

In December 2018, the EPA under President Donald Trump repealed the 2015 rule; in January 2020 it finalized a new Navigable Waters Protection Rule, which removed protections for ephemeral and intermittent streams, as well as wetlands not adjacent to major navigable waters and groundwater.

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Power Plant Toxic Metal Dumping Limits

This photo taken May 5, 2014 shows the stacks of one of the nation’s dirtiest coal-fired power plants, the Homer City Generating Station in Homer City, Pa. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

In 2016, under President Obama, the EPA updated its limits on the amount of toxic heavy metals that power plants could discharge into rivers. Coal plants especially have increased the levels of these toxins in their discharges because of air pollution controls and gasification. The EPA under President Trump has delayed implementation of the new limits at least until November 2020.

Coal Ash Rule

The Richmond city skyline can be seen on the horizon behind the coal ash ponds along the James River near Dominion Energy’s Chesterfield Power Station in Chester, Va., Tuesday, May 1, 2018. Virginia’s governor says the state has no plans to change its coal ash management practices, despite an Environmental Protection Agency proposal that would roll back federal regulations governing the byproduct generated by coal-burning power plants. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

In 2014, the EPA under the Obama administration issued a rule that authorized the EPA to regulate the disposal of coal ash, a byproduct of coal-fired power plants that contains toxic contaminants like mercury and arsenic. Plants often dispose of the ash in ponds or landfills.

The new EPA rules required groundwater testing near the ponds, as well as construction standards, record keeping and public disclosures.

Since 2018, the EPA under the Trump administration has weakened some of the requirements for managing coal ash storage areas, lowering the pollution limits and extending the deadline for existing storage areas to close until 2028. It’s also turned some of the power over to states to decide if they no longer want to monitor levels of contaminants in groundwater — and even exempted multiple coal plants altogether.

Stream Protection Rule

Mountains near Kayford, W.Va., seen in this Jan. 2, 2000 file photo, show how mountaintop removal mining has flattened many mountain peaks. In 2017 the Trump administration removed a rule that prevented dumping mountain debris into streams. (AP Photo/Bob Bird, File)

In 2017, President Trump signed a law removing the Stream Protection Rule, which had been issued in 2016 under the Obama administration. It prevented mining companies from dumping mountain debris into streams and required them to restore the mined areas to their original physical and ecological state, as well as monitor the areas for adverse environmental effects.

Sewage Treatment Rule

A proposed rule under the Obama administration aimed to reduce hazardous pollutants used in government sewage collection and treatment systems. The Trump administration has since withdrawn the proposal.

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