These include a proposed massive open-pit copper mine near Tucson, Arizona, and a proposed heavy mineral sand open-pit just outside of Okefenokee Marsh in Georgia, which is home to a national wildlife refuge and a national wilderness area.
The question of which rivers and wetlands are federally regulated has been the source of intense debate almost since the passage of the Clean Water Act, and has been a legal and political quagmire over the years. last decade and a half after the Supreme Court issued a pair of muddled opinions that created enormous confusion on the ground.
Over the past two presidential administrations, the country has oscillated between three different regulatory definitions, sometimes with different rules in force in different parts of the country.
Although these regulations are felt the hardest by property developers, coal miners, and oil and gas companies, the issue has assumed disproportionate importance within the farming community, despite the fact that most farming practices are exempt. of the law. When the Obama administration crafted an extended definition of protected waterways in 2015, agricultural countries revolted, launching an aggressive political campaign that argued that federal bureaucrats would regulate dry ditches and rain puddles.
Regan, who worked closely with farmers and ranchers in his previous position as head of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, garnered broad support from farm groups when Biden hired him to lead the EPA.
In his statement on Wednesday, Regan said he was determined to craft a new, more protective definition that is “enduring”, consistent with Supreme Court precedents and informed by lessons from the previous settlement. The agency has already committed to holding public awareness sessions across the country this summer and fall.
But forging a compromise in the decades-long battle seems like a long way to go, with environmental groups firmly taking a firm stance on broad protections.
“It’s hallucinogenic” to think that some sort of deal could be reached between the long-warring parties, Vermont Law School professor Patrick Parenteau told POLITICO last month.
Any rule finalized by the Biden administration would be immediately challenged in court, and many legal experts believe the issue will only truly be resolved if the Supreme Court rules again or if Congress steps in to clarify the issue.
Along with its announcement, EPA Wednesday asked a Massachusetts district court, where green groups were challenging the Trump rule, to send it back to the agency.
Repealing and replacing the Trump rule is expected to be a multi-year regulatory process, and the agency said previous rules, published in 1986 and amended by guidance, would be in effect in the meantime.
But it’s unclear what will happen to the thousands of court decisions that have already been made under the narrower Trump rule. Reversing them is a top priority for environmental groups, but the Army Corps of Engineers, which issues the determinations and works with the EPA on the new rule, generally considers them valid for five years.