'This Will Be the Biggest Loss of Clean Water Protection the Country Has Ever Seen': Trump Finalizes Clean Water Rule Replacement
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 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.
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From Greta Thunberg to Sir David Attenborough, the headline-grabbing climate change activists and environmentalists of today are predominantly white. But like many areas of society, those whose voices are heard most often are not necessarily representative of the whole.
1. Wangari Maathai<p>In 2004, Professor Maathai made history as the <a href="https://www.nobelpeaceprize.org/Prize-winners/Prizewinner-documentation/Wangari-Maathai" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">first African woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize</a> for her dedication to sustainable development, democracy and peace. She started the <a href="http://www.greenbeltmovement.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Green Belt Movement</a>, a community-based tree planting initiative that aims to reduce poverty and encourage conservation, in 1977. More than 51 million trees have been planted helping build climate resilience and empower communities, especially women and girls. Her environmental work is celebrated every year on <a href="http://www.greenbeltmovement.org/node/955" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Wangari Maathai Day on 3 March</a>.</p>
2. Robert Bullard<p>Known as the 'father of environmental justice,' Dr Bullard has <a href="https://www.unep.org/championsofearth/laureates/2020/robert-bullard" target="_blank">campaigned against harmful waste</a> being dumped in predominantly Black neighborhoods in the southern states of the U.S. since the 1970s. His first book, Dumping in Dixie, highlighted the link between systemic racism and environmental oppression, showing how the descendants of slaves were exposed to higher-than-average levels of pollutants. In 1994, his work led to the signing of the <a href="https://www.nrdc.org/experts/albert-huang/20th-anniversary-president-clintons-executive-order-12898-environmental-justice" target="_blank">Executive Order on Environmental Justice</a>, which the <a href="https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/presidential-actions/2021/01/27/executive-order-on-tackling-the-climate-crisis-at-home-and-abroad/" target="_blank">Biden administration is building on</a>.<br></p>
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Pollution has a race problem. Elizabethwarren.com
3. John Francis<p>Helping the clean-up operation after an oil spill in San Francisco Bay in January 1971 inspired Francis to <a href="https://planetwalk.org/about-john/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">stop taking motorized transport</a>. Instead, for 22 years, he walked everywhere. He also took a vow of silence that lasted 17 years, so he could listen to others. He has walked the width of the U.S. and sailed and walked through South America, earning the nickname "Planetwalker," and raising awareness of how interconnected people are with the environment.</p>
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4. Dr. Warren Washington<p>A meteorology and climate pioneer, Dr. Washington was one of the first people to develop atmospheric computer models in the 1960s, which have helped scientists understand climate change. These models now also incorporate the oceans and sea ice, surface water and vegetation. In 2007, the <a href="https://www.cgd.ucar.edu/pcm/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Parallel Climate Model (PCM)</a> and <a href="https://www.cesm.ucar.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Community Earth System Model (CESM)</a>, earned Dr. Washington and his colleagues the <a href="https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/peace/2007/summary/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Nobel Peace Prize</a>, as part of the <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change</a>.</p>
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5. Angelou Ezeilo<p>Huge trees and hikes to pick berries during her childhood in upstate New York inspired Ezeilo to become an environmentalist and set up the <a href="https://gyfoundation.org/staff/Angelou-Ezeilo" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Greening Youth Foundation</a>, to educate future generations about the importance of preservation. Through its schools program and Youth Conservation Corps, the social enterprise provides access to nature to disadvantaged children and young people in the U.S. and West Africa. In 2019, Ezeilo published her book <em>Engage, Connect, Protect: Empowering Diverse Youth as Environmental Leaders</em>, co-written by her Pulitzer Prize-winning brother Nick Chiles.</p>
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