WASHINGTON, DC—Resources for the Future (RFF) today released a new installment of Resources Radio: “Is the Trump Administration Ditching WOTUS?, with Ellen Gilinsky.”
In this episode, host Daniel Raimi talks with Ellen Gilinsky, the former associate deputy assistant administrator for water at EPA. An expert on historic water policies, Gilinsky elaborates on how ambiguities in the characterization of “Waters of the United States” (WOTUS) under the Clean Water Act have prompted persistent debates about how the law should be implemented and what types of water sources are covered. Gilinsky also discusses more recent policy developments, including the current administration’s push to redefine “navigable waters,” with implications that weaken the Obama-era Clean Water Rule. (Note that, in the time since the episode was recorded in March, EPA and the US Army Corps of Engineers have published an updated rule with the new definition in the Federal Register.)
Notable quotes from the podcast:
- Ambiguities in the Clean Water Act prompt legal challenges: “[With] the 1972 Clean Water Act … they came up with these categories of Waters of the United States, but they didn't really define them. So over the years it's really been left to interpretation. For instance, [WOTUS] include traditionally navigable waters. Well, what does that mean? Does that mean a cruise ship has to sail on it, or does it mean you could take your kayak out? There is no definition. Similarly, it covers tributaries to these navigable waters. What's a tributary? Is it a little trickle? Is it a roaring river? We don't know … You can see why we ended up in court.” (3:42)
- Substantial impacts of replacing the Clean Water Rule: “[Trout Unlimited] found that there are six million miles of streams that flow only after a significant rainfall. So those six million miles would not be covered under [the new rule]. And they also found that 42 million acres of wetlands, which are half of the wetlands left in this country ... would be considered nonadjacent to a regulated water under the new rule. And therefore, you could do whatever you want to them without a permit. That's troublesome.” (21:06)
- Flawed benefit-cost analysis underlies recent rollback: “One of the first executive orders of the current president was to get rid of the Clean Water Rule … This administration went back on the same economic study that was done [in 2015], and they took out all the indirect benefits, but they kept the indirect costs. And so, no surprise, all of a sudden, the 2015 rule had more costs than benefits … It's agency-wide that they've been told not to look at indirect benefits. And that's how they're able to roll back a lot of the rules that were put forward in the last administration.” (28:42)
Resources for the Future (RFF) is an independent, nonprofit research institution in Washington, DC. Its mission is to improve environmental, energy, and natural resource decisions through impartial economic research and policy engagement. RFF is committed to being the most widely trusted source of research insights and policy solutions leading to a healthy environment and a thriving economy.
Unless otherwise stated, the views expressed here are those of the individual authors and may differ from those of other RFF experts, its officers, or its directors. RFF does not take positions on specific legislative proposals.