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Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt signs letter opposing new Waters of the United States rule

A pond surrounded by green and yellow fields. There are clouds in the sky above it.
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Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt was among 25 Republican governors across the country who signed a letter to President Joe Biden opposing a new rule defining the scope of the Clean Water Act.

The Clean Water Act gives the Environmental Protection Agency authority to regulate pollution in “the waters of the United States, including the territorial seas.” But the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers have offered three different definitions for those waters in the past decade.

In 2015, the EPA under President Obama published a rule saying that any wetlands or waterways that could feed into a river or lake could be regulated under the Clean Water Act. In 2020, the Trump administration replaced it with the Navigable Waters Protection Rule, which limited the application of the Clean Water Act. Both rules met multiple legal challenges.

In the most recent update on Dec. 30, the EPA and the Corps restored broader protections. The new Waters of the United States (WOTUS) Rule is based on how the EPA applied the Clean Water Act before 2015.

The new rule says the Clean Water Act applies “when upstream waters significantly affect the integrity of waters for which the Federal interest is indisputable.” But if the effects aren’t significant or there’s no justifiable Federal interest, “this rule leaves regulation exclusively to the Tribes and States.”

Half of the country’s governors signed the letter opposing this rule change, saying it would make the Clean Water Act’s protections too broad and burden private landowners.

“It appears that the EPA is seeking to regulate private ponds, ditches, and other small water features,” reads the letter.

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard but not decided a case that would clarify the tests that are used to determine whether waters fall under the scope of the Clean Water Act. The governors’ letter requests that implementation of the new WOTUS Rule be delayed until the Supreme Court makes a decision on that case, Sackett v. EPA.

As of right now, the rule will go into effect on March 20 of this year.

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Graycen Wheeler is a reporter covering water issues at KOSU as a corps member with Report for America.
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