By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump is expected to sign a measure as early as Tuesday aimed at rescinding a major Obama administration water regulation and direct an end to the government's defense of the rule, a Trump official briefed on the plan said late Friday.
Trump is expected to direct the Environmental Protection Agency to withdraw the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule, which expands the number of waterways that are federally protected under the Clean Water Act.
The rule was finalized by the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in May 2015, and was blocked by a federal appeals court pending further court challenges.
The rule has faced intense opposition from Republicans in Congress, farmers and energy companies.
Critics contend the rule vastly expands the federal government's authority and could apply to ditches and small isolated bodies of water. The EPA under President Barack Obama said the rule protects waters that are next to rivers and lakes and their tributaries "because science shows that they impact downstream waters."
A White House spokeswoman did not comment on Friday.
Trump is also expected to issue other environmental executive orders as early as next week, including a reversal of the Obama administration's clean power plant rule and instructing the Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management to lift a ban on new coal mining leases on federal lands.
EPA administrator Scott Pruitt told The Wall Street Journal last week that he planned to quickly withdraw the clean power plant and WOTUS rules. "There’s a very simple reason why this needs to happen: Because the courts have seriously called into question the legality of those rules," Pruitt told the newspaper.
Withdrawing the water and power plant rules will take time to meet regulatory requirements and will likely face court challenges from some Democratic state attorneys general and environmental groups.
Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to resolve a dispute over what court should handle challenges of the water regulation.
The justices said they would hear an appeal by the National Association of Manufacturers of a Cincinnati-based federal appeals court's ruling that gave itself jurisdiction to review challenges to the Clean Water Act regulation. The industry group wants challenges to the rule to be heard in district courts.
Dozens of agricultural groups, states and municipalities had sued to block the rule. The challengers contend the agencies' change improperly expanded federal regulatory power.
(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Leslie Adler)