The Trump administration eliminated environmental protections covering a significant portion of U.S. waterways, paving the way for developers, farmers, and industries to operate with fewer impediments, as public health officials and environmentalists blasted the move.
The new policies scale back the number of streams, wetlands, and other bodies that are protected against pollution and development under the Clean Water Act. President Trump has opposed the long-standing policies that he believes needlessly stand in the way of businesses.
“EPA and the Army are providing much needed regulatory certainty and predictability for American farmers, landowners and businesses to support the economy and accelerate critical infrastructure projects,” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a statement.
The administration believes the removal of restrictions will make it easier for farmers to plow because they will not have to worry about accidentally going onto protected lands. Developers and other businesses will also benefit due to less regulation for waterways and wetlands, according to government data.
Trump told a farmers' convention in 2019 that protections that kept developers out of waterways were among "the most ridiculous" of regulations.
Critics of the changes believe they will end up making it more difficult to maintain clean water for the U.S. and could also pose a danger to wildlife. New Mexico officials are worried because the Rio Grande, which is a key water source for millions of people, draws from streams and other bodies that could be affected by the changes.
“It defies common sense to leave unprotected the arteries of life to the desert Southwest,” Jen Pelz, rivers program director for environmental organization WildEarth Guardians, told The Associated Press.
The final rule is expected to be published in the Federal Register in the coming days, and take effect 60 days later.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.