Industry Leaders Respond to Repeal of the 2015 Clean Water Act

Learn what construction industry leaders had to say about the recent repeal of the controversial 2015 Clean Water Act.

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Last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army finalized a rule that effectively repealed the 2015 Clean Water Act. The Clean Water Act was an attempt to better define which U.S. water bodies fall under federal jurisdiction and therefore required a federal Clean Water Act permit.

Much of the debate over the Clean Water Act was centered around that definition. Opponents of the act argued that expanding the definition to create more federally regulated waters was an overstep of the federal government that created unnecessary confusion. Before it was repealed, the 2015 rule was on hold in 27 states, causing an inconsistent enforcement of federal regulation across the country.

“Before this final rule, a patchwork of regulations existed across the country as a result of various judicial decisions enjoining the 2015 Rule,” said R.D. James, assistant secretary of the Army for Civil Works in an EPA press release. “This final rule reestablishes national consistency across the country by returning all jurisdictions to the longstanding regulatory framework that existed prior to the 2015 Rule, which is more familiar to the agencies, States, Tribes, local governments, regulated entities, and the public.”

For now, this repeal reverts regulations back to the way they were before the 2015 act, but the plan is not to stop there. The EPA will now move forward with a rule first proposed in December 2018 that they say will “provide a clear definition of the difference between federally regulated waterways and those waters that rightfully remain solely under state authority.” According to NPR, the new rule is expected to be finalized by sometime this winter.

Since the repeal, construction industry leaders have weighed in on the decision in a separate press release.

“The administration’s decision to withdraw the deeply flawed Waters of the U.S. rule will provide much-needed clarity for communities and officials who are working to advance vital new infrastructure, development and remediation projects across the country,” said Stephen Sandherr, CEO of the Associated General Contractors of America.

Sandherr, who has previously publicly disagreed with this administration’s plans for apprenticeship programs, said that the AGC looks forward to collaborating with the administration as they seek to rework clean water regulation. Greg Ugalde, chairman of the National Association of Home Builders, voiced a similar sentiment.

“By repealing the 2015 rule, the EPA and Corps have taken an important step forward. Next, they need to finalize a new definition that restores common sense to the regulatory process by respecting states’ rights and balancing economic and environmental concerns.” ” said Ugalde.

While many industry representatives were enthusiastic about the repeal, the decision was not met with unanimous approval.

“The Clean Water Rule represented solid science and smart public policy,”  Jon Devine, director of federal water policy at the NRDC, said in a statement. “Where it has been enforced, it has protected important waterways and wetlands, providing certainty to all stakeholders.”

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