Late last year, Donald Trump said that “crystal clear water” would be important to his administration. But, as the saying goes, actions speak louder than words. Trump’s actions consistently demonstrate that he doesn’t care about protecting America’s waterways or the communities that rely on them as he is systematically dismantling the EPA.
I’ve already written about how Trump’s proposed budget strips funding for Great Lakes restoration by 97 percent. But to understand how deeply his presidency threatens America’s precious water resources, we have to go back a bit.
In December, he nominated Scott Pruitt, then Oklahoma’s Attorney General, to lead the Environmental Protection Agency. As Attorney General, Pruitt had sued the EPA to overturn the Clean Water Rule, a 2015 revision to the Clean Water Act that clarified which bodies of water the law protected.
Over two dozen states sued the federal government over the rule, fearing it would disrupt agriculture, hurt pesticide and fertilizer producers, and add new regulations to the fossil fuel industry. The American Farm Bureau Federation led a campaign against it – never mind that the rule largely exempted agriculture from new regulations altogether. Trump made the rule a target on the campaign trail.
Last month, Trump again proved where he stands on water cleanliness by rescinding the Stream Protection Rule. The rule forbade coal and mining companies from dumping their waste into nearby waterways, many of which feed streams that provide drinking water to wildlife and local communities.
Then, a few short weeks later, he gave Pruitt his wish and issued an executive order asking the EPA to roll back the Clean Water Rule.
Earthjustice, an environmental group, said:
“By attacking the Clean Water Rule and fundamental protections under the Clean Water Act, the President is putting the drinking water of 117 million people at risk, demonstrating that he puts the interests of corporate polluters above the public’s health.”
But Trump’s order doesn’t just ask the EPA for a review of the existing rule. It asks, specifically, for a review that validates Justice Antonin Scalia’s opinion in Rapanos v. United States.
Rapanos was a 2006 case that challenged federal jurisdiction to regulate isolated wetlands under the Clean Water Act. Scalia argued that the federal government and the Army Corps of Engineers were utilizing an overly broad definition of what bodies of water were protected under the law.
The Clean Water Rule was developed based on that suit and another from 2001 that also challenged Clean Water Act provisions.
But Scalia’s opinion in Rapanos was not the majority opinion. Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation, said:
“This is an approach that the Supreme Court has previously rejected, specifically because it is not based upon sound science, is inconsistent with letter and spirit of the Clean Water Act as passed by Congress, and does not follow existing case law.”
According to the NWF, using Scalia’s opinion as the basis for developing a new rule would end protection for 60 percent of streams and 20 million acres of wetlands in the U.S. And 64 million acres of prairie pothole wetlands – seasonal bodies of water produced by snow melt that are used by migratory birds – would also lose protection.
These waters are important for the health of America’s wildlife and communities. Ending these vital protections would threaten public health and natural resources.
Fortunately, it will take Trump and his cronies time to draft a new law. The New York Times estimates that a new rule might not be finished until 2021. And before the rule is approved, it will be subject to public review and comment. Since 87 percent of the public comments regarding the original Clean Water Rule were supportive, Trump should have a hard time actually achieving his anti-scientific rollback.
Featured image via YouTube video.