Trump Clean Water Rollback Threatens U.S. Water Supply
Most Waters and Wetlands Would Lose Legal Protections against Pollution and Fill
Washington, DC — More than half of all U.S. waterbodies will lose federal protection under a new Trump proposal, according to a compilation posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). By eliminating protections against polluting, draining, or filling thousands of streams and wetlands, Trump’s plan would jeopardize water security in much of the country.
The latest proposal stems from a Trump order to dramatically limit the scope of the 1972 Clean Water Act, one of the pillars of American environmental law. Decades of litigation on this issue, i.e., the definition of Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS), was to have been settled by a 2015 Obama regulation, called the Clean Water Rule, but the litigation continued and today it is in effect in only about half of the states.
Like his approach to Obamacare, Trump in 2017 proposed to repeal and replace the Obama Clean Water Rule. While his repeal proposal is still pending, the replacement, based upon a 2005 opinion by the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, is now being unveiled. The Scalia model limits Clean Water Act coverage to “relatively permanent, standing or continuously flowing bodies of water” – that is, streams, rivers, and lakes. Wetlands could potentially be included, but only when they have a “continuous surface connection” to other “waters of the United States.”
This plan represents a huge eco-rollback triggering what PEER argues are dire consequences, including –
- As much as 60% of U.S. waters and wetlands, and up to 90% in the arid West, would no longer be protected. This will greatly exacerbate already growing water shortages;
- Drinking water sources for most of the country would be at risk. For example, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) determined that the 2015 Obama rule, which expanded Clean Water Act coverage by less than 5%, affects the drinking water sources for 117 million people, one out of three Americans. The Trump/Scalia plan affects far more source waters; and
- The millions of acres of wetlands that could be filled or drained would greatly weaken U.S. flood control, strip urban hurricane buffers, as well as decimate fish and wildlife habitat.
“As the 21st century unfolds, water scarcity is an ever-growing concern that this proposal would make exponentially worse,” stated PEER Science Policy Director Kyla Bennett, a scientist, wetland specialist, and attorney formerly with EPA. “It is astonishing that an agency with ‘Environmental Protection’ in its name has done no analysis of the environmental effects of what it has proposed.”
If a wetland or water is not protected under the Clean Water Act, it could be filled, drained, or discharged into without any federal permit. Large scale developments, such as highways, pipelines, and mega-construction projects, will be able to avoid the permit process, as many states do not protect these waters.
“This is a developer’s dream but an environmental nightmare,” added Bennett, pointing to the map displaying the waterbodies in Southern California from which Trump would strip legal protection. “Once people see the effects of this plan in their area, region, and state, there will be a tsunami of public outrage.”