Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

'This Will Be the Biggest Loss of Clean Water Protection the Country Has Ever Seen': Trump Finalizes Clean Water Rule Replacement

Politics
Myakka River State Park outside of Sarasota, Florida on Dec. 30, 2016. The park is a small preserve of rare protected habitat along Florida's Gulf Coast, a region that has seen intense development and population growth. Andrew Lichtenstein / Corbis via Getty Images

Today, the Trump administration will finalize its replacement for the Obama-era Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule in a move that will strip protections from more than half of the nation's wetlands and allow landowners to dump pesticides into waterways, or build over wetlands, for the first time in decades.


President Donald Trump has been working to undo the 2015 rule since he took office, but his replacement goes even further, The New York Times explained. In addition to rolling back protections for some wetlands and streams that run intermittently or temporarily underground, it will also get rid of a requirement that landowners seek permits from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which had considered permits on a case-by-case basis before 2015.

"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."

The administration announced the repeal of the WOTUS rule, also known as the Clean Water Rule, in September of 2019. That rule had expanded the definition of "waters of the United States" under the 1972 Clean Water Act from larger bodies of water to include streams and wetlands. The rule was controversial before Trump took office. Many farmers and businesses thought it gave the federal government too much power, and court rulings had suspended it in 28 states.

Trump appealed to this logic when he touted his repeal Sunday at the American Farm Bureau Federation Annual Convention and Trade Show in Austin, Texas.

"I terminated one of the most ridiculous regulations of all: the last administration's disastrous Waters of the United States rule," he said. "Thank you. It's gone. That was a rule that basically took your property away from you."

However, the rule was also based on a review of 1,200 scientific studies that found that streams and wetlands were connected to waters downstream. And legal experts say Trump's replacement goes even further than repealing the 2015 rule to deny decades-old protections to smaller headwaters.

"This is rolling back federal jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act further than it's ever been before," Vermont Law School environmental law professor Patrick Parenteau told The New York Times "Waters that have been protected for almost 50 years will no longer be protected under the Clean Water Act."

The science behind Trump's new rule is already being challenged, including by some of Trump's own appointees.

Late in 2019, the EPA's Scientific Advisory Board, which is staffed with many Trump picks, questioned the science behind three of the administration's deregulatory moves, including its WOTUS repeal. The board wrote that the administration's proposed replacement "neglects established science" by "failing to acknowledge watershed systems," The New York Times reported at the time. The board also said it found "no scientific justification" for denying protections to certain bodies of water.

The board's comments will likely prove useful to environmental groups and the attorneys general of several states, who are expected to sue to block the new rule, The New York Times reported.

"The legal standing all has to do with whether you have a rational basis for what you're doing," Parenteau told The New York Times. "And when you have experts saying you're not adhering to the science, that's not rational, it's arbitrary."

The rule is also already being challenged by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, which has called for an investigation into how it was finalized, E&E News reported Monday.

"The writing of the final Rule was controlled solely by [EPA] Headquarters political appointees," the complaint, signed by 44 current and former EPA employees, said. "The final Rule contradicts the overwhelming scientific consensus on the connectivity of wetlands and waters, and the impacts that ephemeral streams and so-called 'geographically isolated' wetlands have on downstream navigable waters."

The group filed the complaint with the EPA's Office of Inspector General and asked it to determine if the rule violated the agency's Scientific Integrity Policy.

The final rule is due to be announced in Dallas, Texas today by EPA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials, as well as Texas Republican Representatives Louie Gohmert and Ron Wright, Courthouse News Service reported.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

The Firefly Watch project is among the options for aspiring citizen scientists to join. Mike Lewinski / Wikimedia Commons / CC by 2.0

By Tiffany Means

Summer and fall are great seasons to enjoy the outdoors. But if you're already spending extra time outside because of the COVID-19 pandemic, you may be out of ideas on how to make fresh-air activities feel special. Here are a few suggestions to keep both adults and children entertained and educated in the months ahead, many of which can be done from the comfort of one's home or backyard.

Read More Show Less
People sit at the bar of a restaurant in Austin, Texas, on June 26, 2020. Texas Governor Greg Abbott ordered bars to be closed by noon on June 26 and for restaurants to be reduced to 50% occupancy. Coronavirus cases in Texas spiked after being one of the first states to begin reopening. SERGIO FLORES / AFP via Getty Images

The coronavirus may linger in the air in crowded indoor spaces, spreading from one person to the next, the World Health Organization acknowledged on Thursday, as The New York Times reported. The announcement came just days after 239 scientists wrote a letter urging the WHO to consider that the novel coronavirus is lingering in indoor spaces and infecting people, as EcoWatch reported.

Read More Show Less
A never-before-documented frog species has been discovered in the Peruvian highlands and named Phrynopus remotum. Germán Chávez

By Angela Nicoletti

The eastern slopes of the Andes Mountains in central Perú are among the most remote places in the world.

Read More Show Less
Left: Lemurs in Madagascar on March 30, 2017. Mathias Appel / Flickr. Right: A North Atlantic right whale mother and calf. National Marine Fisheries Service

A new analysis by scientists at the Swiss-based International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) found that lemurs and the North Atlantic right whale are on the brink of extinction.

Read More Show Less
Nobody knows exactly how much vitamin D a person actually needs. However, vitamin D is becoming increasingly popular. Colin Dunn / Flickr / CC by 2.0

By Julia Vergin

It is undisputed that vitamin D plays a role everywhere in the body and performs important functions. A severe vitamin D deficiency, which can occur at a level of 12 nanograms per milliliter of blood or less, leads to severe and painful bone deformations known as rickets in infants and young children and osteomalacia in adults. Unfortunately, this is where the scientific consensus ends.

Read More Show Less
Data from a scientist measuring macroalgal communities in rocky shores in the Argentinean Patagonia would be added to the new system. Patricia Miloslavich / University of Delaware

Ocean scientists have been busy creating a global network to understand and measure changes in ocean life. The system will aggregate data from the oceans, climate and human activity to better inform sustainable marine management practices.

EcoWatch sat down with some of the scientists spearheading the collaboration to learn more.

Read More Show Less

Trending

Authors of a new study warned Thursday that increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is nearing a level not seen in 15 million years. Dawn Ellner / Flickr / CC by 2.0

By Jessica Corbett

As a United Nations agency released new climate projections showing that the world is on track in the next five years to hit or surpass a key limit of the Paris agreement, authors of a new study warned Thursday that increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is nearing a level not seen in 15 million years.

Read More Show Less