Trump Administration Rolls Back WOTUS Rule, Undermines the Clean Water Act

Photo: Monica Medina

Yesterday the Trump Administration’s Environmental Protection Agency rolled back one of the most important environmental rules put in place by the Obama Administration – the Waters of the U.S. Rule (“WOTUS”) – which protects wetlands that are the best natural barriers to storm surge and flooding and also keeps agricultural pollution out of our waterways.  The Administration re-instated the definition of waters that can be regulated by the Act that was put in place in 1986 and promised to put in place a “uniform regulatory approach” — a new definition for which water bodies deserve federal protection within a few months.  Environmental groups immediately criticized the move, according to The Washington Post, saying that “tens of thousands of acres that connect underground or through ditches to nearby waterways will lose protection” as will half the wetlands in the U.S.

Why This Matters: The President claims we have crystal clean water — but this rule will make our lakes, rivers, streams, and coasts dirtier than ever. Administrator Wheeler of the EPA announced this rule at a meeting of the National Association of Manufacturers because special interests like big-ag, real estate developers and other industries wanted it gone.  And the Trump Administration promised to repeal it from day one. The WOTUS rule finally — after years of uncertainty —  brought small waterways like ponds, streams, and even drainage ditches under EPA’s protection because they eventually flow into larger waterways.  The WOTUS rule was groundbreaking because it paved the way for controls of “non-point” sources of pollution, which have fouled groundwater, drinking water, and even major bodies of water like the Gulf of Mexico that has a massive dead zone caused by nutrient pollution from farms thousands of miles away.  The protection of wetlands is more important now than ever – they are key to fighting the impacts of climate change in vulnerable areas near rivers and coasts.  The Clean Water Act is significantly weaker today as a result of this rollback.

Wetlands

According to The Post, “Americans drained about half of the 220 million acres of wetlands in the contiguous United States between the 1780s and 1980s, most of it to expand farmland. That rate began to slow in the 1980s, and after George H.W. Bush took office he pledged to stem the tide of wetlands loss.”

National Association of Manufacturers Lobbied for Repeal

According to The Hill, the National Association of Manufacturers has “fervently lobbied for WOTUS’s repeal. The gathered crowd included…top executives at Dominion Energy, The American Farm Bureau Association and the National Association of Home Builders, many of which gave statements at the event.”

Environmental Groups Plan To Sue

The Hill reported that the “EPA is misleading the public by claiming that this regulation simply repeals the 2015 Clean Water Rule,” said Kelly Foster, a senior attorney for the Waterkeeper Alliance.  “The truth is that this is an illegal attempt to reinterpret the prior longstanding regulatory definition to eliminate anti-pollution requirements for rivers, streams, wetlands and other waters that have been in place since the 1970s.”

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