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Clearing up the water rules

President Trump, with little national fanfare, has laid to rest what was considered an overreach by landowners nationwide by beginning to scrap the so-called “Waters of the United States” rules of the Obama administration.

The rules were touted by environmentalists as protection of wetlands and streams but in practice were simply onerous efforts at controlling activity on private property.

Talk to any farmer in the area, for instance, and you’ll learn that the rules were being interpreted as declaring a drainage ditch in the middle of acres of crop or grazing land a “navigable water” and thus subject to orders and regulations by the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

It didn’t matter if the “stream” in question was only wet during the spring rains, it would be subject to orders and controls that could have had an impact on as much as 90 percent of the farmland in Ohio, according to the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation.

Trump didn’t exactly put a big red “X” over the rule but ordered the two federal agencies to review it and determine just what small bodies of water could be or should be subject to federal controls.

Confusion has abounded, with different federal regions of the Army Corps of Engineers and the EPA interpreting the rules differently, and state EPA officials interpreting it yet another way, too.

Unlike Obama’s action to create the rules, Trump’s pen could only start the process of review, and possibly another year of hearings and development of new rules and writing new rules before anything different gets implemented.

Trump said he hopes the agencies follow the words of the late Justice Antonin Scalia in interpreting the original Clean Water Act of 1972 as being aimed at permanent bodies of water, not dry gulches in the middle of farms or potential subdivisions.

The good news is the “Waters of the United States” rule is on a stay thanks to a federal appellate court ruling.

The middling news is that it’s still on the books and could come back.

We can hope, for the sake of farmers, that the good news becomes permanent and the middling news doesn’t become bad.

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