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Kansas U.S. Rep. Estes blasts Biden administration’s revision of clean water rules

By: - January 1, 2023 12:25 pm
U.S. Rep. Ron Estes, a Kansas Republican, says President Joe Biden was wrong to rewrite the EPA rule on federal regulation of waterways to deter pollution by repealing the rule put in place by President Donald Trump. (Michael Gerstein/Michigan Advance)

U.S. Rep. Ron Estes, a Kansas Republican, says President Joe Biden was wrong to rewrite the EPA rule on federal regulation of waterways to deter pollution by repealing the rule put in place by President Donald Trump. (Michael Gerstein/Michigan Advance)

TOPEKA  — U.S. Rep. Ron Estes of Kansas registered opposition to President Joe Biden’s rewriting of federal rules to restore authority of the U.S Environmental Protection Agency to regulate pollution in smaller waterways under the Clean Water Act.

The EPA said the new rule would protect people’s health and support economic opportunity by restating what types of waterways fell under federal law enacted 50 years ago.

In 2015, President Barack Obama broadened definitions of the Waters of the United States, or WOTUS, to include the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, the Mississippi River and, most controversially, wetlands, lakes and modest rivers or streams. President Donald Trump in 2020 implemented a rule excluding streams and wetlands from federal protection. Biden reversed Trump with a rule designed to resemble the pre-2015 regulatory framework.

Estes, who serves the 4th District in southcentral Kansas, said the Biden version improperly increased government control over private land and water, including agricultural ponds and isolated wetlands.

He described the WOTUS rule issued by EPA and the U.S. Corps of Engineers as “detrimental government overreach into ponds and puddles a thousand miles from the D.C. swamp.”

“As a Kansan and former farm kid, my colleagues and I will continue pushing back against this burdensome administration that chooses to govern with a heavy hand and disregards the common sense conservation by the men and women who actually work the land,” Estes said.

The new rule excluded from regulation wetlands converted to croplands prior to December 1985. Other exclusions: irrigated fields, ditches, water-filled depressions, artificial ponds, reflecting or swimming pools, waste treatment systems.

Environmental groups pressed Biden to take steps to protect fragile wildlife habitat and improve oversight of impaired waterways.

Stuart Gillespie, senior attorney with Earthjustice, said the Biden rule rejected Trump’s approach, which “unlawfully and unscientifically rolled back Clean Water Act longstanding protections.” Earthjustice filed a pair of lawsuits challenging Trump-era water policy.

“This rule tracks the familiar framework that the agencies have applied for decades to protect our nation’s waters,” Gillespie said. “The agencies grounded their approach in the scientific record, which underscores that many waters are connected and thus must be protected to safeguard downstream communities and the environment.”

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Tim Carpenter
Tim Carpenter

Tim Carpenter has reported on Kansas for 35 years. He covered the Capitol for 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal and previously worked for the Lawrence Journal-World and United Press International. He has been recognized for investigative reporting on Kansas government and politics. He won the Kansas Press Association's Victor Murdock Award six times. The William Allen White Foundation honored him four times with its Burton Marvin News Enterprise Award. The Kansas City Press Club twice presented him its Journalist of the Year Award and more recently its Lifetime Achievement Award. He earned an agriculture degree at Kansas State University and grew up on a small dairy and beef cattle farm in Missouri. He is an amateur woodworker and drives Studebaker cars.

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