Some members of the business community are celebrating an executive order signed this week by President Donald Trump.
For them, the proposed changes
to rules concerning waters of the U.S. (nicknamed WOTUS) constituted "a land-grab" by the federal government, and they've been keeping an eye on the issue since it was proposed in April 2014.
“Thank goodness this horrible issue will finally be making an exit, thanks to the president’s executive order,” said Stephen Hobbs, chairman of the Governmental Affairs Committee of Cape Fear Realtors (CFR), in a news release from the group on Thursday. “For years, we have been fighting this effort by EPA to extend its regulations of navigable waters to every dry creek bed in the country.”
Others say statements like Hobbs' that refer to the potential for regulating "every dry creek bed," or others that said the proposal would halt economic development, aren't true.
"There's been a lot of misconceptions and misinformation about how the clean water rule will impose new regulations on farming, on agriculture, on development, on businesses and cut jobs and there's no science, no fact [behind those statements]. That's just incorrect," said Mike Giles, N.C. Coastal Federation coastal advocate. "For everybody to say this is a great day for business and jobs and agriculture -- it just muddies the water, and it's a knee-jerk reaction by an administration that hasn't done the research and the fact-finding to determine what this executive order will mean."
Trump signed the executive order Tuesday directing the Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers to review its efforts to expand the definition of “waters of the United States,” a key term in the Clean Water Act.
Because the rule had been finalized, it will not immediately go away, said the news release from Cape Fear Realtors. But the order is expected to begin the process of rescinding and rewriting of the rule.
Local and national groups opposed the redefinition efforts during the Obama Administration, the CFR release said. Although the changes went into effect Aug. 28, 2015, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit stayed the rule nationwide in October 2015 pending further action of the court.
“While it may take a bit of work to get this rule off the books or changed, farmers, Realtors, and property owners can give a sigh of relief,” said Jeff Sweyer, owner of Century 21 Sweyer & Associates, in the CFR release. “Can you imagine having to pull a federal permit every time a property owner walked by a mud puddle? If enacted, this would have been both a ‘taking’ of private property in my opinion, and would have cost the Cape Fear Region millions of dollars in lost economic development due to the additional regulations.”
Giles said the changes aren't aimed at taking land but would have clearly defined waters of the U.S. because of questions people have had since a Supreme Court decision in 2006. He said it wouldn't have regulated puddles, stormwater policies, irrigation or land use but would have defined and protected tributaries that impact the health of downstream waters.
Streams, creeks, rivers and coastal estuaries that are connected to major bodies of water "are critically important to the economy of the coast and important to people in the development business," Giles said. "And if you degrade those by pollution or other ways, you're going to degrade the ability to promote your product -- i.e. houses, land, businesses, industrial manufacturing -- because that's what attracts people to your area."