WASHINGTON — A federal judge on Monday removed a Trump-era environmental rule that drastically reduced federal restrictions on pollution of millions of streams, wetlands and swamps across the country.
The Biden administration had already begun the lengthy process of overturning the policies President Donald J. Trump enacted in 2020 to please real estate developers and farmers. Mr. Trump’s policy allowed the discharge of pollutants such as fertilizers, pesticides and industrial chemicals into smaller streams and wetlands.
But on Monday, Judge Rosemary Márquez of the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona found “fundamental substantive flaws” in the Trump administration’s policies and said it violated the Clean Water Act of 1972. She warned of the “possibility of serious environmental damage” if the Trump rule were to remain in effect.
Under Trump policy, more than 300 projects across the country could go ahead without an environmental permit, the judge noted. Many of those projects were in arid states like New Mexico and Arizona.
The court’s ruling is the latest in a series of decisions by federal judges that have scrapped Trump’s environmental policies after noting that the government had often ignored the analysis of federal career scientists.
In her injunction, Judge Márquez wrote that the Trump water rule, which was drafted jointly by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers, appeared to ignore the EPA’s own scientific findings indicating that allowing pollution in small bodies of water the health of larger bodies of water and their ecosystems.
An EPA spokesperson said the agency was reviewing the ruling, but he declined to comment.
The Trump rule was a revision of an earlier rule promulgated by the Obama administration in 2015, known as Waters of the United States. That rule took advantage of the authority of the Clean Water Act of 1972 to protect about 60 percent of the country’s waterways, including large bodies of water such as the Chesapeake Bay, the Mississippi River, and the Puget Sound, as well as smaller headwaters, wetlands, seasonal flows and flows that temporarily run underground.
Trump withdrew the policy in 2019, calling it “one of the most ridiculous rules of all” and claiming his repeal made farmers cry with gratitude. A year later, the EPA completed its replacement policy known as the Navigable Waters Protection Rule, which removed protection for more than half of the country’s wetlands and hundreds of thousands of miles of upland streams by defining what constitutes a “United States water” deserves federal protection.
With both the Trump and Obama rules off the books, the nation’s waters are now protected by a 1986 rule, which environmentalists, farmers and developers have lamented as so contradictory and poorly written that it resulted in thousands of legal disputes over water pollution that dragged on. on for years.
“It was terribly confusing,” said Mark Ryan, a former EPA attorney. “It required a very complicated, time-consuming process” to determine whether bodies of water were eligible for federal pollution protection.
This summer, Michael S. Regan, the EPA administrator, announced plans to begin drafting a new water conservation rule that could be completed next year.