Trump environmental agency to scale back U.S. water protections

Trump environmental agency to scale back U.S. water protections

WASHINGTON, Jan 23 (Reuters) - The Trump administration on Thursday will announce a plan to pare back the types of waterways protected from pollution under federal law, in a move intended to ease burdens on industries like agriculture and mining.

The plan could deliver a political win for Republican President Donald Trump in the Farm Belt, a key political constituency ahead of the November election, but will deepen anger among conservationists worried he is cutting regulatory red tape at the expense of the environment.

The Environmental Protection Agency's administrator, Andrew Wheeler, will announce the proposal to narrow the definition of "waters of the United States" that are protected under the 1972 Clean Water Act from pollutants like fertilizers, pesticides, and mining waste.

The proposal would replace the Obama-era Clean Water Rule, which broadly defined the nation's waters to include ephemeral streams and wetlands. It was rescinded by the EPA last year after industry groups said it was too onerous.

"That was a rule that basically took your property away from you. As long as I'm president, government will never micromanage America's farmers," Trump said on Sunday in a speech at the American Farm Bureau's annual meeting in Texas.

The replacement rule will offer a narrower definition of which waters to be protected, excluding certain types of waterways like seasonal streams and wetlands.

Environmental groups criticized the move ahead of the announcement.

"This all-out assault on basic safeguards will send our country back to the days when corporate polluters could dump whatever sludge or slime they wished into the streams and wetlands that often connect to the water we drink," said Janette Brimmer, an attorney with Earthjustice.

Fourteen states, including New York and California, and the District of Columbia said the EPA's proposal would end federal protection for half of the nation's wetlands and 15% of streams across the country. (Reporting by Valerie Volcovici Editing by Leslie Adler)