Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan told Congress Wednesday he does not intend to go back to the Obama administration’s definition of Waters of the U.S.
During a House Appropriations Subcommittee budget hearing, Republican Congressmen Mike Simpson of Idaho and Chris Stewart of Utah pressed Regan on his planned WOTUS actions as administrator.
“We don’t have any intention of going back to the original Obama Waters of the U.S. verbatim,” Regan told the subcommittee.
But he noted the agency does not necessarily agree with everything in the Trump administration’s version as well.
“We’ve learned lessons from both, we’ve seen complexities in both, and we’ve determined both rules necessarily did not listen to the will of the people,” he said.
Regan then echoed comments made in his confirmation hearing saying, he is beginning a stakeholder engagement process involving the ag community, American Farm Bureau Federation, ag CEOs, and the environmental community.
He pledged the agency will chart a path forward that is “inclusive” and “forward-leaning.”
Stewart thought that was a fair approach.
“We can learn from the previous administration and we can learn from President Obama’s administration as well,” Stewart said.
The Obama-era WOTUS rule was set to take effect August 28, 2015, but a U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit panel issued a nationwide stay on the rule. It has been a political lightning rod between environment and farm groups ever since.
The Trump administration scrapped Obama’s definition and released their own rule January 23, 2020, which significantly reduced federal jurisdiction over streams and wetlands, something farmers and ag groups advocated for.
At his confirmation hearing, Regan said he wanted to pursue a rule that "is not overly burdensome, but gives the states the flexibility to protect water quality and protect the local agricultural economy."
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During the budget hearing, Regan also said reducing greenhouse gas emissions and reaching climate goals would require an all-hands-on-deck approach.
“There are electric vehicles, there is advanced diesel technology and there are biofuels in the mix,” Regan said.
He noted he is spending time with both the agriculture community and automakers to look at how the U.S. makes a shift to benefit the environment while looking at jobs to follow.
Regan also defended President Joe Biden’s fiscal year budget request for EPA, which totals $11.2 billion in discretionary spending, a 21.3% increase over fiscal year 2021.
That increased funding includes $110 million to "restore critical staff capacity" and $1.8 billion for "programs that would help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, while also delivering environmental justice and creating good-paying jobs."
Democrats praised Regan for his commitments to clean up drinking water systems across the U.S. by removing harmful chemicals like PFAS or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances. These chemicals are often found in packaged food and drinking water, according to EPA.
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