Volume 17, Issue 2
The Obama Administration’s final rule defining what wetlands and waterways deserved automatic Clean Water Act protection did not receive the reception they were hoping for. In fact, they had to work very diligently in order to try to squish the journalist coined acronym ‘WOTUS,’ which they felt was unflattering and misleading. WOTUS stands for the “Waters of the United States” rule.
In correspondence obtained by E&E News through the Freedom of Information Act, it was found that at least six reporters were told by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials to stop using the acronym WOTUS and to instead call the rule the “Clean Water Rule.”
At the moment the EPA-Army Corps of Engineers regulation cannot do anything until a verdict is made by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on the merits of the regulation. If the rule does make it through the Court of Appeals, President-elect Donald Trump has already stated that during the early part of his administration, he would do away with the rule. At the moment, it appears like this would be hard for Trump to do and that it would take time.
The rule was first brought forward by the Obama administration in March 2014 and it was called the “Definition of Waters of the United States under the Clean Water Act,” a title playing on a critical phrase in the law, “navigable waters of the United States,” that specified areas subject to federal oversight. Five months after the rule was announced, the EPA and the Corps dubbed the rule the Clean Water Rule, which was then included in the regulations formal title.
“WOTUS is a technical term that refers to the waters throughout the country that the rule examines,” EPA spokeswoman Monica Lee said in an email. “WOTUS was used as a placeholder in the beginning stages of the proposal. Clean Water Rule is what the agency uses on our website and in the Federal Register to refer to the rule.”
Much to the chagrin of the EPA’s Office of Public Affairs, the press did not take to the rule’s new name. What was more problematic for the agency was that challengers of the rule were using WOTUS in their press releases. These challengers included farm groups, real estate developers and congressional Republicans.
The EPA tried to put even more pressure on journalists to stop using the term WOTUS. In at least one case, they tried to stop Politico water reporter Annie Snider to stop using the acronym by using her editors to pressure her.
“’For some reason, she refuses to call the rule by its name,’ then-EPA spokeswoman Liz Purchia told editors Nick Juliano and Matt Daily on Dec. 14, 2015, the day the Government Accountability Office issued a scathing legal opinion that EPA had broken lobbying laws in its promotion of the rule. Snider previously worked at E&E News.
As Snider was leaving E&E News for Politico in November 2015, EPA’s Lee asked her to instruct her replacement to use the rule’s full official name” (Stecker).
The administration wanted to get rid of the acronym because they feared it made it seem like the rule covered all U.S. Waters and made them federally regulated.
“We felt like those opposed to the rule were intentionally misleading the public and stakeholders about the extent of the rule,” said Purchia, a former associate administrator for the Office of Public Affairs and now at a communications firm.
Industry and agriculture groups that saw the rule as an attempt to regulate farming and development “were trying to create confusion and a negative association with the name Waters of the U.S.,” Purchia said in an email. “We were presenting a more accurate and direct explanation of the importance of why this rule existed in the first place, which was to protect water sources that communities and economies depend on.”
The opposition says that the EPA politicized the issue, not them.
“In an attempt to sell the country on an expansive new federal regulation, the Agencies coined a new term for their regulatory program — the ‘Clean Water Rule.’ This terminology implies that without this Rule, the nation’s waters will be ‘unclean,'” attorneys representing state petitioners wrote in a court brief. “All of the States have robust regulatory programs that protect and preserve the natural resources within their boundaries.”
What do you think about the acronym WOTUS? Do you think the EPA or its challengers are right?
Source: Stecker, Tiffany. “How EPA Tried to Erase ‘WOTUS’ from Media Lexicon.” E&E News. E&E, 02 Dec. 2016. Web. 02 Jan. 2017.