What does the future hold for the Environmental Protection Agency?

During a recent speech at a coalmine in Pennsylvania, President Donald J. Trump’s pick to head the agency, announced a “back-to-basics” agenda. 

The agenda, he said, refocuses the EPA on its intended mission, “returning power to the states, and creating an environment where jobs can grow.”

A driving force in redefining the EPA’s mission, Pruitt said, is the President’s recent Energy Independence Executive Order, which directs federal agencies to review the Clean Power Plan and revise regulatory barriers that impede energy independence, “including unnecessary burdens on coal miners and coal-fired electric utilities.”

Pruitt recently signed four notices to review and, if appropriate, “revise or rescind major, economically significant, burdensome rules the last Administration issued.” They include the Obama era Clean Power Plan, which Republicans claim “threatens over 125,000 U.S. jobs.”

Pruitt detailed other initiatives:

Clearing the backlog of new chemicals that were waiting approval from EPA, so they can go to market.

Helping states achieve high air quality targets, clean up toxic waste sites and improve America’s water infrastructure.

Rescinding greenhouse gas and fuel economy standards for model year 2022-2025 vehicles, working with the Department of Transportation to conduct a collaborative and robust review of the standards.

Reviewing the Oil and Gas Methane New Source Performance Standards for new and modified sources, to determine whether it is duplicative.

Allocating funds for environmental projects “that go directly to the health of our citizens,” including $100 million to upgrade drinking water infrastructure in Flint, Michigan.

Stopping the methane Information Collection Request by telling businesses “they no longer have this additional bureaucratic burden,” with the cost to American businesses attempting to comply exceeding $42 million.

Launching the EPA Regulatory Reform Task Force “to undergo extensive reviews of the misaligned regulatory actions.”

The EPA is also "restoring states’ important role in the regulation of local waters by reviewing the WOTUS (Waters of the U.S.) rule," Pruitt said.

President Trump has issued an Executive Order demanding a review of the controversial rule.

“It is in the national interest to ensure that the nation's navigable waters are kept free from pollution, while at the same time promoting economic growth, minimizing regulatory uncertainty, and showing due regard for the roles of the Congress and the States under the Constitution,” the Executive Order, issued on Feb. 28, reads. It orders that the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers publish for notice and comment a proposed rule rescinding or revising the rule.

The agencies are ordered to consult with the U.S. Attorney General to facilitate decisions on whether to pursue or abandon any defense or prosecution before federal courts related to the rule.

The existing rule regulates the discharge of pollutants into “navigable waters,” defined as "the waters of the United States.” “The question of what is a "water of the United States" is one that has generated substantial interest and uncertainty, especially among states, small businesses, the agricultural communities, and environmental organizations, because it relates to the extent of jurisdiction for federal and relevant state regulations,” it says.

Specifically, the existing rule:

Defines and protects tributaries that impact the health of downstream waters.

Protects navigable waterways and their tributaries by determining that a tributary must show physical features of flowing water (a bed, bank, and ordinary high water mark) to warrant protection.

Protects waters that are next to rivers and lakes and their tributaries “because science shows that they impact downstream waters.”

Sets boundaries on covering nearby waters for the first time that are physical and measurable.

Limits protection to ditches that are constructed out of streams or function like streams and can carry pollution downstream.

In response to the Executive Order, Pruitt has issued a “Notice of Intention to Review and Rescind or Revise the Clean Water Rule.