Industry groups with close ties to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt are considering a highly unusual approach to undoing the Obama administration’s most controversial water regulation — pushing Pruitt to hand the job to private lawyers.
Such an approach would help Pruitt bypass the Environmental Protection Agency employees who spent five years writing the Waters of the U.S. regulation — the kinds of career federal bureaucrats whom supporters of President Donald Trump often deride as the “deep state.” Trump has ordered the agency to replace the water rule, a sweeping regulation that has stirred up opposition from groups including the agriculture, oil and gas, and development industries.
But legal experts say privatizing the rule-making process in this manner would be almost unheard of. Although it’s likely legally doable, they say, it would raise a host of ethical questions, while probably limiting the public’s view into decisions about which streams, lakes and wetlands get federal protection.
Environmentalists call it alarming that anyone would even seriously discuss the possibility.
“To then say it’s OK for a cabal of industry groups to put some gun for hire in charge of writing the rule, that just seems absolutely, wildly unethical,” said John Rumpler, who directs the clean water program for Environment America. His group supports the 2015 rule, which increased the number of creeks and wetlands that receive automatic protection under the Clean Water Act after two muddled Supreme Court decisions.
Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware, the top Democrat on the Environment and Public Works Committee, expressed “incredulity” Tuesday after reading POLITICO’s reporting on the potential outsourcing.
“I urge you in the strongest possible terms to disavow this reported industry plan, if true,” Carper wrote Pruitt in a letter. He added, “I question the legal validity of allowing industry to assist the agency in writing a rule-making proposal, and consider it an utter and complete abdication of EPA’s responsibility to protect the water and people of this country.”