MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) – The Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers are change the rules for clean water. The plan is to revert the Waters of the U.S. Rule to pre-2015 definitions.
President Barack Obama's administration made changes that redefined the b odies of water the federal government could regulate. It was a move praised by environmental activists and had groups representing industries like farming and golf upset, calling it government overreach.
Right now, the EPA is in a month-long public comment period, part of the process to change the rules back. Wednesday, a day before the comment period opened, the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce released a statement from president Brad Dean:
"This is a big win for our community, especially local developers and property owners. WOTUS was a major overreach by the Obama administration which impeded job creation and economic development. This withdrawal will foster future economic growth by eliminating excessive rules and burdensome regulation. We applaud the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corp of Engineers for their common-sense approach and leadership on this matter."
WMBF News asked the MBACC for examples where job creation was or would have been impeded, but the chamber did not provide them, referring me to a local engineering firm. The 2015 rule change was briefly in effect before becoming tied up in lawsuits. It is currently on hold.
South Carolina's Commissioner of Agriculture did return our call. Hugh Weathers hosted EPA Director Scott Pruitt in Columbia on July 24, three days before the ongoing comment period.
"I used the example that after the 2015 flood and 2016 hurricane," Weathers said of the meeting, "we needed to manage our farms with our own man made facilities, drains and ditches, and not have them come under the jurisdiction of EPA. By virtue of the expanded definition from 2015, that would have happened."
Weathers said it was clear Pruitt was there to listen to the state's concerns.
"It's his hope and plan that these changes are effective first quarter of 2018," Weathers said. "As I tell my staff, soon is not a time and some is not an amount. He told us a time."
He said the most important thing to him and his department at this point is clarity.
"The uncertainty of application of the definitions and the lack of clarity in promulgating those regulations really was a theme last week as well," Weathers said. "No matter where the regulations end up, I as a farmer, my neighbor as a golf course supervisor and what not, need a clear understanding. We don't need to have to run to the EPA or hire a lawyer at every turn, in order to do the things we need to do to manage water."
Senator Lindsey Graham was in the meeting and released a statement afterword:
"I applaud Administrator Pruitt for coming to South Carolina to listen, learn and continue the dialogue. I know he is committed to restoring the proper balance between the federal government, states, and the private sector. I look forward to working with him to replace this ill-conceived regulation with something that makes sense and better balances the needs of our environment with the needs of private property owners."
WMBF News reached out to Representative Tom Rice, who sides with the senator:
"The WOTUS rule is exactly the type of over regulation that strangles the economy and holds us back from being competitive. It expanded the EPA's authority so that all waterways, even bodies of water like farm ponds and ditches, would be under the federal government's control. Businesses and farmers were left with another burdensome regulation that forced compliance and hindered growth. I'm proud of President Trump for making good on his campaign promise to undo it."