Biden Administration Moves to Expand Protections for Smaller Waterways in the United States

President Biden, on the same day as his inauguration, signed 17 Executive Orders (EOs), some of which reversed decisions made by the Trump administration. Three EOs targeted issues about the environment. One EO rolled back many actions taken by the previous administration to loosen environmental standards and protections that were inconsistent with Biden’s articulated policy.

On Wednesday, June 9, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator Michael Regan announced the intention of the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (the Corps) to expand the number of waterways that receive protection under the Clean Water Act. This would reverse a rule adopted by the Trump administration in 2020, known as the Navigable Waters Protection Rule, which limited bodies of water that could receive federal protection. The Biden administration wants to expand protections to smaller waterways like streams, ditches and wetlands that feed into bigger bodies of water.

The issue of which streams and wetlands are subject to federal regulation has been a major concern for the past two presidential administrations, which have gone back and forth on different regulatory definitions. Regan mentioned in a statement that after the EPA and the Corps reviewed the Navigable Waters Protection Rule, they determined the current rule was leading to significant environmental degradation. According to the Corps, the Trump-era rule has led to a 25 percent reduction in “determinations of waters that would otherwise be afforded protection.”

While a compromise on this new rule appears to be a long-shot, Regan and the Biden administration is committed to holding public outreach sessions around the country this summer and fall. The Stream + Wetlands team is continuing to monitor activities surrounding the impact of these actions and are available to discuss how they could affect your projects.