Trump administration eases protection of wetlands

Copper River Delta (U.S. Forest Service)

The Trump administration has issued a replacement for a wetlands-protection rule that Alaska’s congressional delegation has long complained goes too far.

The issue is known as the “Waters of the U.S.” The new WOTUS rule redefines which waters are covered by the federal Clean Water Act. Some of the regulations it replaces date to the Reagan presidency.

“It’s a staggering repeal,” National Wildlife Federation President Collin O’Mara told reporters Thursday. “This is not just undoing the Clean Water rule that was promulgated by the Obama administration. This is going back to the lowest level of protection we have ever seen during the past 50 years.”

Conservation groups say protection will be removed from about half the nation’s wetlands. (The Environmental Protection Agency disputes that, saying there is no data or mapping tool to quantify the scope of WOTUS.)

The state of Alaska and Alaska’s congressional delegation say some of those lands shouldn’t have been under federal jurisdiction in the first place. 

Consider the landscapes of Arctic and Western Alaska. 

In a 2017 memo, the state described them as a mosaic of wetlands and uplands. The state says only wetlands connected to navigable waters should be federally protected, not the entire mosaic.

The new rule removes federal jurisdiction from wetlands that don’t have a surface water connection to a stream that runs at least intermittently in a typical year.

Environmental groups say they’ll sue to stop the new rule from taking effect.