stream running through field USDA
his Maryland farmer worked with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to plant buffers and install a stream crossing, reducing erosion and improving the stream’s water quality.

WOTUS rule effective date delayed two years

Amendment would give agencies the time needed to reconsider definition of “waters of the U.S.” and provide regulatory certainty.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of the Army are proposing to amend the effective date of the 2015 rule defining “waters of the U.S.” (WOTUS). The agencies are proposing that the 2015 rule not go into effect until two years after action is finalized and published in the Federal Register. The action would give the agencies additional time needed to reconsider the WOTUS definition.

“Today’s proposal shows our commitment to our state and tribal partners and to providing regulatory certainty to our nation’s farmers, ranchers and businesses,” EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said. “This step will allow us to minimize confusion as we continue to receive input from across the country on how we should revise the definition of the ‘waters of the United States.’”

The 2015 rule, which redefined the scope of where the Clean Water Act applies, had an effective date of Aug. 28, 2015. Implementation of the 2015 rule is on hold as a result of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals’ nationwide stay of the rule, but that stay may be affected by a pending Supreme Court case. The 2015 rule is also stayed in 13 states due to a North Dakota district court ruling. EPA and the Army are taking this action to provide certainty and consistency to the regulated community.

"The Army, together with the Army Corps of Engineers, propose this rule with EPA to help continue to provide clarity and predictability to the regulated public during the rule-making process. We are committed to implementing the Clean Water Act Section 404 regulatory program as transparently as possible for the regulated public," said Ryan Fisher, acting assistant secretary of the Army (Civil Works).

This action follows the Feb. 28, 2017, presidential executive order on "Restoring the Rule of Law, Federalism & Economic Growth by Reviewing the 'Waters of the United States' Rule." The February order states that it is in the national interest to ensure that the nation's navigable waters are kept free from pollution while at the same time promoting economic growth, minimizing regulatory uncertainty and showing due regard for the roles of Congress and the states under the Constitution.

The agencies’ proposal is separate from the two-step process the agencies propose to take to reconsider the 2015 rule. The comment period for the Step 1 rule closed in September, and the agencies are currently working to review the comments received from the public. The agencies are also in the process of holding listening sessions with stakeholders as they work to develop a proposed Step 2 rule that would revise the WOTUS definition.

The agencies will be collecting public comment on this proposal for 21 days after publication in the Federal Register and plan to move quickly to take final action in early 2018.

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