Pruitt’s Massive Wetlands Shell Game
WOTUS Repeal Cost-Benefit Study Premised on Wetlands Having Zero Value
Washington, DC — U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt has rigged the cost-benefit study justifying the repeal of an Obama clean water protection in order to reverse the overwhelming weight of evidence that the benefits outweighed its costs, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Pruitt and his political team decided not merely to lower the value of wetlands; they decided that wetlands have no quantifiable value at all and thus there is no benefit in saving them from destruction – a decision reflected in a notice published in today’s Federal Register.
At issue is what should be protected as “Waters of the United States” (WOTUS) under the Clean Water Act. On February 28, 2017, President Trump signed an Executive Order telling the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers to review the 2015 WOTUS rule promulgated under Obama which would slightly increase the extent of protected streams, ponds and wetlands in the U.S. by between approximately 3 to 5 percent.
Potential benefits of expanded WOTUS jurisdiction include flood storage, improved water quality, and enhanced wildlife habitat. In 2015, the estimated annual benefits of this expansion were placed between $313.5 million and $513.2 million, with net benefits of between $129 million and $205 million. In the Pruitt version, every cent of the up to a half-billion dollars in value has completely disappeared.
“Scott Pruitt is not just cooking the books, he is burning the books,” stated New England PEER director Kyla Bennett, an attorney and scientist who specialized in wetland protection when she was at EPA. “Wetlands may have no value for Mr. Pruitt but they have a tremendous value to the rest of the planet.”
The U.S. Supreme Court has calendared a hearing this October 11th on allowing WOTUS to go into effect. A quick repeal of WOTUS would likely knock the case off the Court’s docket.
EPA’s new rationale for zeroing out the benefits associated with wetland protection is the “uncertainty” associated with past economic studies of the public’s willingness to pay to retain wetlands. The hastily thrown together Pruitt study says all prior studies should be thrown out “because public attitudes toward nature protection could have changed” – an absurd assertion for which no support was offered.
This sleight of hand has major legal ramifications as it makes Pruitt’s repeal vulnerable to being invalidated under the Administrative Procedures Act (APA) for being “arbitrary and capricious.” Not surprisingly, House Republicans are pushing a rider to exempt WOTUS repeal from the APA, altogether.
“By zeroing out all benefits associated with wetland protection, Trump’s EPA ignores both science and economics,” added Bennett. “I had heard of alternative facts but now they want to use alternative math.”
Just as Trump would like to repeal and replace Obamacare, his plan is to repeal and replace WOTUS. The Trump order also directs EPA to pursue a new rule that is “consistent with the opinion of Justice Antonin Scalia” in his dissenting opinion in a 2006 case. The Scalia approach would substantially cut the amount of streams, ponds and wetlands protected under the Clean Water Act by as much as 90% – a radical surgery amputating the scope of one of America’s fundamental anti-pollution laws.