Trump Administration Finalizes Rule Severely Limiting Clean Water Act

Photo: Greg Shine, Bureau of Land Management

The Trump Administration on Thursday made official a controversial rule to drastically limit the application of the Clean Water Act, finalizing its proposal that has been uniformly criticized by environmental groups and the agency’s own science advisors because it will lead to the contamination of groundwater, many intermittent water bodies, and drinking water supplies and the elimination of many wetlands.  The Trump administration last December repealed the 2015 “Waters of the U.S.” rule that had, after years of public input, created nationwide regulatory consistency by clarifying exactly which water bodies were covered by the Clean Water Act, but the new rule injects new confusion into its scope by replacing a bright-line standard that was broad with a waterway-by-waterway determination, according to experts.

Why This Matters: They call it the “The Navigable Waters Protection Rule” but nothing could be further from the truth because now pollution can enter big waterways and the ocean from smaller ones and from wetlands that are no longer protected.  More pesticides, more PFAS, more chemicals, more waste — and we won’t know it because these discharges and wetlands destruction will all be “perfectly” legal.  At a time when “clean” water and “safe” drinking water are making people across the country sick and when we need wetlands to protect us from flooding and severe storms more than ever, this administration has thrown aside the best science and the law. The impacted waterways make up at least 18% of all waterways nationwide and 51% of all wetlands, and in the arid West where few waterways exist year-round, they can account for the vast majority of them.  The Obama rule was based on a review of 1,200 scientific studies that found that streams and wetlands were connected to waters downstream, and the new rule goes beyond merely repealing the 2015 rule to rollback decades-old protections to smaller headwaters.

Environmental Organizations Vow To Fight It

“This will be the biggest loss of clean water protection the country has ever seen,” Southern Environmental Law Center lawyer Blan Holman told The New York Times. “This puts drinking water for millions of Americans at risk of contamination from unregulated pollution. This is not just undoing the Obama rule. This is stripping away protections that were put in place in the ’70s and ’80s that Americans have relied on for their health,”  according to Ecowatch.

Gina McCarthy, president and CEO of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) said, “So much for the `crystal clear’ water President Trump promised. You don’t make America great by polluting our drinking water supplies, making our beaches unfit for swimming, and increasing flood risk. This effort neglects established science and poses substantial new risks to people’s health and the environment. We will do all we can to fight this attack on clean water. We will not let it stand.”

Dalal Aboulhosn of the Sierra Club told ODP that what worries her most is that “this rule has real impacts for real people.  Now when you turn on the tap, you won’t know what kind of water you will be getting.”

Lisa Feldt, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Vice President of Environmental Protection and Restoration said in a statement,  Recognizing the value of wetlands, in 2014 EPA and the other cleanup partners committed to creating, reestablishing, or restoring 235,000 acres of wetlands by 2025. Gutting federal protections for wetlands undermines that commitment and risks derailing our decades-long restoration effort at a critical time.”

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