Washington Waves
Washington Waves

Trump Administration Announces New WOTUS Rule

Washington, D.C.—The Trump administration announced its much-anticipated rule to succeed the controversial Obama-era Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule January 23. The administration says the new rule will offer certainty on where federal jurisdiction begins and ends and spur economic growth across the country by getting rid of costly litigation.

Now called the Navigable Waters Protection Rule, the new definition was unveiled at the National Association of Home Builders International Builders’ Show in Las Vegas by Andrew Wheeler, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, and R.D. James, assistant secretary of the Army for Civil Works.

“After decades of landowners relying on expensive attorneys to determine what water on their land may or may not fall under federal regulations, our new Navigable Waters Protection Rule strikes the proper balance between Washington and the states in managing land and water resources while protecting our nation’s navigable waters,” Wheeler said. He used a call with reporters to respond to concerns posed by some that the new rule will lead to weaker protections for waters that fall outside federal protection by emphasizing the broad regulatory approach some of the states already have in place.

Wheeler also dismissed reports about data or tools that can accurately map or quantify the scope of “waters of the United States,” saying those kind of tools do not exist.

James recalled his history as a farmer and his time on the Mississippi River Commission in speaking of what he called federal overreach.

Under the new definition, four categories of waters will fall under federal regulations: territorial seas and traditional navigable waters; perennial and intermittent tributaries; certain lakes, ponds and impoundments; and wetlands that are adjacent to jurisdictional waters.

Features that by definition will fall outside federal jurisdiction include those that constrain water only in direct response to rainfall, groundwater, many ditches such as farm and roadside ditches, prior converted cropland, farm and stock watering ponds and waste treatment systems.

Roughly 620,000 comments were received on the proposed rule, and it is scheduled to take effect 60 days after its publication in the Federal Register.

Reaction to the new rule is expected to be extremely partisan, as key Republicans in Congress welcomed the announcement and Democrats viewed it as an assault on the protections provided by the Clean Water Act.

“The old WOTUS rule put Washington in control of ponds, puddles, and prairie potholes,” said Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
“The punishing regulation was so confusing that property owners and businesses could not determine when permits were needed. Even worse, it inserted Washington into local decision making. This overreach put unfair restrictions on how farmers, ranchers, and landowners could use their property.”

California’s Democratic Attorney General Xavier Becerra described the new rule as irrational and another ill-conceived attempt by the Trump administration to dismantle critical environmental protections.
“We’re ready to take action against this unlawful assault on the Clean Water Act,” Becerra said in a tweet.

WRDA Priorities

A bipartisan group of leaders of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee urged their colleagues to finalize their priorities for the upcoming Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) as they officially kicked off the effort to develop the major legislation.

In a letter to committee members, Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), ranking member Sam Graves (R-Mo.) and Reps. Grace Napolitano (D-Calif.) and Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.), chairman and ranking member of the Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment, also announced the panel will hold a Member Day hearing on WRDA requests on February 27.

“The committee will soon be asking House members to submit project, study, and policy requests for consideration in a Water Resources Development Act of 2020,” their letter stated.

“The committee hopes to introduce and consider a WRDA 2020 later this year and will be providing additional information on this submission process shortly.”

Previously, DeFazio revealed plans to have his committee consider the next WRDA in the spring.

Spellmon Nominated For Chief

President Donald Trump has selected Major Gen. Scott Spellmon to become the next chief of engineers at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

If confirmed, Spellmon will succeed Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite, whose four-year appointment is scheduled to end in May.

Spellmon currently serves as the deputy commanding general for civil and emergency operations and previously was commander of the Corps’ Northwestern Division. He also was nominated to become a lieutenant general.

Merchant Marine Academy

The U.S. Merchant Marine Academy Board of Visitors (BOV) is scheduled to meet at 9 a.m., February 3, in Kings Point, N.Y.

Items on the agenda include a briefing on the infrastructure spending plan and ongoing capital improvements, as well as updates on the general state of the academy, Class of 2023 performance, implementation of the five-year strategic plan and the master plan and progress on the sexual assault/sexual harassment program.

For additional information, contact George Rhynedance at 516-726-6048.

Trade Symposium

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) announced it will convene the 2020 Trade Symposium in Anaheim, Calif., in March that will cover
collaboration on the trade agreement with the U.S., Mexico and Canada(USMCA). President Trump is expected to sign legislation implementing that agreement soon.

Scheduled March 10–11, the symposium also will feature personnel from the CBP and other government agencies and members of the trade
community in panel discussions on the agency’s role in international trade initiatives and programs.

It is scheduled to be held at the Anaheim Hilton, 777 W. Convention Way, Anaheim, Calif. 92802.
Registrations must be made online at the CBP website and will be confirmed by credit card payment; the per-person registration fee is $210.

For additional information, contact Natalie Thompson at 202-344-1440.

Software Vulnerability

The National Security Agency identified a critical vulnerability, CVE-2020-0601, in Microsoft’s handling of certificates and, due to the severity of some of the vulnerabilities, the Coast Guard issued a strong recommendation to the maritime community to install critical patches expeditiously.

Organizations were encouraged to prioritize patching by starting with mission-critical systems, internet-facing systems and networked servers. They were then directed to prioritize patching other affected information technology/operational technology (IT/OT) assets.

Individuals should ensure that all home devices are updated.