The original measure, known as the Waters of the United States rule, dates to the Obama administration and extended the range of bodies of water that were subject to the 1972 Clean Water Act, an issue that had for decades lacked clarity.
The Obama administration protected about 60 percent of the nation’s waterways, including large bodies of water such as the Chesapeake Bay, Mississippi River and Puget Sound, and smaller headwaters, wetlands, seasonal streams and streams that run temporarily underground. It limited the discharge of pollutants such as fertilizers, pesticides and industrial chemicals into those waters.
Mr. Trump repealed the policy in 2019, calling it “one of the most ridiculous regulations of all,” and claimed that his repeal caused farmers to weep in gratitude. One year later his E.P.A. finalized the Navigable Waters Protection Rule, which removed protections for more than half of the nation’s wetlands and hundreds of thousands of miles of upland streams by narrowing the definition of what constitutes a “water of the United States.”
In doing so, Mr. Trump framed the change as the rightful return of power from the federal government to landowners and states. In a statement on Wednesday Chuck Fowke, the chairman of the National Association of Homebuilders, expressed concern that changes to the water rule will “add unnecessary requirements” that will hurt housing affordability.
Tuesday’s announcement does not start the process of revising the regulation. That will come when the E.P.A. officially promulgates a proposed new rule, possibly later this year. Wednesday’s action was a legal move in which the Department of Justice and Department of the Army formally requested repeal of the Trump-era rule.
“Communities deserve to have our nation’s waters protected,” Jaime A. Pinkham, the acting assistant Army secretary for civil work, said in a statement. He said the Trump-era rule resulted in a significant drop in determinations of waters that would otherwise have been afforded protection.
Environmental groups and Democrats in Congress praised the announcement and pressed the administration to work quickly to unravel the Trump policy. “Every day the ‘Dirty Water’ rule remains in effect, it causes irreparable harm to our health, to our environment, and to our economies,” Representative Peter DeFazio, Democrat of Oregon and chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, said in a statement.