COLUMBUS — Manufacturers, coal, oil and gas, farmers and home builders praised the latest Trump administration environmental rollback, while environmental experts warn it will weaken water standards and lead to more pollution across more than 67% of Ohio’s stream miles.
“After five decades of constant litigation and uncertainty, this new rule significantly curtails the all too familiar practice of needing to hire teams of lawyers and attorneys to tell landowners and farmers how to use their land,” Kurt Thiede, administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s District 5 Great Lakes region, which covers Ohio and 5 other states, said Friday at the Ohio Chamber of Commerce Downtown.
“Over many decades and multiple administrations, federal regulators and the courts have expanded the reach of the waters of the U.S. definition, moving from waters a commercial vessel can navigate to isolated wetlands,” he said.
Proponents for the changes say it provides more consistency to those seeking permits.
“This final rule that we’re sharing today provides clarity and consistency across the country of the limits of federal jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act, (and) does so reducing confusion and uncertainty about the scope of the federal government’s authority,” said Maj. Gen. Robert F. Whittle, Jr. who oversees the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Great Lakes and Ohio River Division in Cincinnati.
“If there’s less situations where permits are required and we retain the same staffing, … presumably permit times could be turned around more quickly,” Whittle said.
Under the new revision, ephemeral streams which do not run year-round but only at certain times of the year after rain or snow will no longer be protected. Isolated wetlands will also be excluded from protection under federal law. In Ohio, that’s a majority of the state’s stream miles.
Ohio has already lost 90% of its original wetlands. There used to be 5 million acres of wetlands across the state. Now there are only 500,000 acres, making Ohio second in the nation for the amount of wetlands lost.
Mick Micacchion, a wetland ecologist and vice president of the Ohio Wetlands Association, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting and protecting wetlands, estimates Ohio will likely lose an additional 10% to 20% more wetlands with the rule change.
There is an Ohio law to protect wetlands, but it does not go nearly as far to protect them as the former federal law did, he said.
Federal officials say the new interpretation of the law does nothing to prevent states from stepping in to fill that regulatory void.
When Ohio EPA was contacted Friday and asked if that might happen, a spokesperson responded: “Ohio EPA will be closely reviewing the new rule to determine how it impacts streams and wetlands in Ohio.”
A similar response was given nearly a year ago when the proposed revisions were first proposed by the Trump administration.
Gov. Mike DeWine previously filed several objections as attorney general when the rule was revised during the Obama administration, arguing that the language was too broad.
“There’s so many development interests that the state usually chooses not to kind of interfere with those,” said Cinnamon Carlarne, who specializes in environmental law at Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law.
“In Ohio, because of all the problems with Lake Erie and agricultural runoff and non-point source pollution, I think what we’ve seen is a lot of really serious work being done in that space, — but with great care and caution in a very conservative way. So the odds of [the state] being more aggressive in this context are highly unlikely.”
The rule change is expected to take effect by April, officials said. For more information about the rule visit, https://www.epa.gov/nwpr.