Trump’s Toxic Wake: 10 Ways the EPA Has Made Life More Hazardous
By Melanie Benesh, Legislative Attorney
From the beginning, the Trump administration has aggressively slashed environmental regulations. A New York Times analysis identified 100 environmental protections that have been reversed or are in the process of getting rolled back. The administration's record on chemical safety has been especially hazardous for the health of Americans, especially children.
One year into President Trump's term, EWG detailed how the Trump administration has stacked the Environmental Protection Agency with industry lawyers and lobbyists, undermined worker safety and cooked the books on chemical safety assessments. Midway through his second year, we reported how the EPA reversed a ban on a brain-damaging pesticide, delayed chemical bans and killed a rule to protect kids from toxic PCBs in schools. Last year, we reported that the EPA had rescinded safety rules at chemical plants, rubber-stamped untested new chemicals and silenced researchers.
As Trump's first term nears its end, things are even worse. Here are 10 more ways the Trump administration has continued to make life more toxic for Americans.
1. Failed to Aggressively Regulate Toxic ‘Forever Chemicals’
The toxic fluorinated chemicals known as PFAS contaminate more than 2,200 sites across the nation. Because they never break down in the environment, PFAS are often called "forever chemicals." They build up in our bodies and are linked to cancer, reproductive and developmental harms and reduced effectiveness of vaccines. Even though the EPA has known about the risks from PFAS chemicals since at least 1998, they remain virtually unregulated.
In February 2019, the EPA released a toothless PFAS "action plan" that lacked deadlines for action and failed to address the use of PFAS in everyday products, contamination from PFAS air emissions or disposal of PFAS waste, among other concerns. A year and a half later, key goals from the plan, including regulating PFAS under the Superfund law and setting drinking water standards, remain unfulfilled.
When Congress stepped in and sought to designate PFOA and PFOS – the two most notorious and well-studied PFAS – as "hazardous substances" and to set deadlines for agency action, Trump threatened a veto. Trump's EPA also weakened a rule designed to regulate PFAS in consumer products.
2. Allowed a Rocket Fuel Chemical to Stay in Drinking Water
Perchlorate is a component of rocket fuel that also frequently contaminates drinking water sources. Perchlorate can interfere with thyroid function, which can also harm childhood brain development.
Almost a decade ago, the EPA determined that these harms warranted regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act. The agency then dragged its feet for years. In 2016, the Natural Resources Defense Council sued to force the EPA to finally set a legal limit for perchlorate in drinking water. In a court-approved consent decree, the EPA agreed to propose a standard by October 2018 and finalize it by 2019. However, the EPA sought extensions and failed to meet these deadlines.
The EPA finally proposed a drinking water standard in June 2019 but also suggested that it might not regulate perchlorate after all. A year later, the EPA withdrew its decision to regulate perchlorate in drinking water.
3. Allowed Scores of New Chemicals, Including New Toxic PFAS, Onto the Market Without Adequate Oversight
In 2016, Congress substantially changed the way new chemicals are approved under the Toxic Substances Control Act, or TSCA.
Under the old law, chemicals were frequently approved by default, often without any health and safety information. As a result, unsafe chemicals were allowed to be used for years or decades before the health and environmental hazards came to light. Inadequate oversight of new chemicals can also lead to regrettable substitution – when chemicals are finally found to be unsafe, they are often replaced by unstudied chemicals that may be just as or even more toxic.
The 2016 update was supposed to fix the new chemicals program by requiring the EPA to make an affirmative safety finding on new chemicals and restrict use if industry failed to provide sufficient safety data. Nonetheless, the Trump EPA has approved scores of new chemicals in a process that lacks transparency and contravenes the 2016 law. The EPA has also ignored known health concerns, limited its consideration of worker risks and denied requests for public files in the new chemicals program.
The EPA has also exploited loopholes in the new law to quickly approve new chemicals, including toxic PFAS. A recent investigation found that the EPA has been quietly approving new PFAS chemicals, through a provision known as the low volume exemption in the new chemicals program. As a result, the EPA is greenlighting new PFAS chemicals on an expedited basis, without public scrutiny. One PFAS, used in ski wax, was approved despite a finding that the chemical could "waterproof the lungs," resulting in severe health impacts.
Since the law was updated in 2016, the EPA has reviewed more than 3,000 new chemicals submissions. More than 1,000 of these chemicals have been approved through the low volume exemption, and since 2016, manufacturers have begun producing at least 900 new chemicals, many without adequate safety data. Environmental groups have sued the EPA over its failures to protect the public and the environment from risks from new chemicals.
4. Failed to Protect Workers From a Deadly Paint-Stripping Chemical
Methylene chloride is a highly toxic chemical used in paint strippers that is responsible for more than 60 deaths since 1980. In the final days of the Obama administration, the EPA proposed a ban on "methylene chloride for consumer and most types of commercial paint and coating removal."
After significant pressure from families who lost loved ones due to methylene chloride exposure, the Trump EPA eventually issued a final rule in 2019. However, the EPA narrowed the rule so that it would apply only to consumer uses of methylene chloride, not commercial uses. That means workers are not protected, even though a Center for Public Integrity investigation found that most deaths from methylene chloride take place at work.
A separate EPA evaluation of methylene chloride found that manufacturing, disposal and several other uses of methylene chloride pose no "unreasonable risk." Environmental groups have filed lawsuits challenging the rule and the recent evaluation.
5. Cooked the Books on the “Civil Action” Chemical
Trichloroethylene is a chemical solvent made infamous by the book and movie "A Civil Action." The EPA considers it to be a known carcinogen, and it is one of the primary contaminants that sickened scores of veterans who served at Camp Lejeune, in North Carolina.
As with methylene chloride, in the final days of the Obama administration, the EPA proposed banning three uses of TCE: spot cleaning, aerosol degreasing and vapor degreasing. In December 2017, the Trump EPA shelved these proposed bans, claiming that it would study those uses in a separate ongoing risk evaluation of TCE.
However, the EPA dramatically rewrote the accepted science on TCE in the draft risk evaluation released in February. As EWG warned in 2018, the solvents industry aggressively lobbied the EPA to ignore a key 2003 study finding that TCE causes heart deformities in developing fetuses. TCE's connection with fetal heart defects was an important basis for the Obama EPA's decision to ban three uses of TCE. An independent review of the EPA's science found that "prenatal exposure to TCE can cause human cardiac defects" and that the study "remains a valid choice" for assessing risk.
The lobbyists succeeded. The EPA's draft risk evaluation questioned the study's design and minimized its significance. An investigation by Reveal News compared the draft risk evaluation with a leaked earlier draft. It found that the earlier draft had relied extensively on the 2003 study and used it as a benchmark for the risk calculations. Reveal also reported that then-EPA chemicals safety chief Nancy Beck – "the scariest Trump appointee you've never heard of" – ordered that the risk evaluation be rewritten to downplay the risks of TCE. With the EPA giving significantly less weight to risks from fetal heart deformities, it's unlikely the agency will finalize the proposed bans.
6. Pressured EPA Scientists to Drop Evaluations of Toxic Chemicals – Including Formaldehyde
The Trump EPA is undermining the work of independent scientists within the Integrated Risk Information System program, known as IRIS. The program's work is supposed to be impartial and non-political. Its scientific assessments are intended to support the work of other EPA program offices and regional offices. IRIS is a frequent target of chemical industry attacks because its independent safety assessments often don't align with industry objectives.
In 2018, the Trump EPA tried to defund the IRIS program. EPA leadership also pressured IRIS to drop critical health assessments. In March 2019, a Government Accountability Office report disclosed that EPA leadership directed agency offices to limit the number of chemicals they wanted IRIS to review, and cut in half the number of IRIS's ongoing or upcoming assessments.
One of the halted assessments was IRIS's decades-long review of formaldehyde, a widely used chemical and known human carcinogen. This is surprising because former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt indicated to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in January 2018 that the report was complete and ready for release. However, answering questions for the record following a 2019 Senate hearing, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said formaldehyde was "not a top priority."
Instead of releasing the IRIS study on formaldehyde to the public, the EPA has instead decided that the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention – under the leadership of Nancy Beck – should conduct its own assessment of formaldehyde. As with TCE, this action will give the agency an opportunity to distort the science and minimize risks. Because these reviews take years, it will also significantly delay any EPA regulatory action on formaldehyde.
7. Rolled Back Clean Water Protections
Industrial chemical pollutants are often discharged into drinking water supplies. But the Trump administration has made it a priority to roll back the Clean Water Rule, which more clearly defined which kinds of bodies of water are subject to the Clean Water Act. EWG's analysis found that the Clean Water Rule, if implemented as proposed by the Obama administration, would have protected drinking water sources for more than 117 million Americans.
The EPA's own science advisors have opposed the rollback of the Clean Water Rule, but the Trump administration repealed it in 2019, proposed its own rule in January and finalized it in April. The new rule covers far fewer bodies of water and would leave 234,000 miles of small streams unprotected. EWG estimates that at least 72 million Americans draw at least half their drinking water from small streams.
Because of the repeal, those bodies of water will no longer be subject to pollution limits. Protection for small and seasonal streams and wetlands is important because they often flow into larger bodies of water, including sources of drinking water. Polluted drinking water sources strain municipal water utilities tasked with filtering out contaminants regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act, and risk exposing the public to more contaminants that aren't regulated under the act.
8. Cooked the Books on Asbestos
Asbestos is a highly toxic, naturally occurring chemical linked to a particularly deadly form of cancer called mesothelioma. An estimated 40,000 Americans die every year from asbestos-related diseases. Although the toxicity of asbestos is well understood, the EPA has never actually banned most uses. The EPA attempted a ban in 1989, but most of the rule was overturned by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in 1991.
After Congress reformed TSCA in 2016, the EPA announced that asbestos would be one of the first 10 chemicals reviewed under the new law. Many hoped that this time, the EPA would finally ban asbestos.
Instead, when the EPA released its draft risk evaluation in May, it found that several uses of asbestos, including import of asbestos and asbestos-containing products and distribution of asbestos-containing products, did not pose an unreasonable risk. The EPA made its risk determinations by ignoring exposure from "legacy" uses of asbestos, such as old insulation and building tiles. Although in November the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the EPA to fix this error, it has yet to do so.
Instead of banning asbestos, in April 2019 the EPA published a rule requiring notice and approval before manufacturers could resume using it in some applications the agency considered abandoned. However, leaked documents show that more than a dozen EPA staffers urged an outright ban on asbestos instead.
9. Proposed a Loophole for Toxic Air Pollution
In July 2019, the Trump EPA proposed to reverse a longstanding policy requiring large power plants, refineries and other industrial polluters to always meet certain strict controls, even after reducing emissions. The new rule creates a loophole in the Clean Air Act regulations that would allow large industrial facilities to reclassify themselves, from "major sources" of air pollution to "area sources."
That change would allow them to opt out of strict pollution control standards, called "maximum achievable control technology," and substantially increase their emissions of dangerous air pollutants. EPA's own data shows that more than 3,900 large facilities that emit pollutants like mercury and benzene could take advantage of this loophole. The Environmental Defense Fund estimates the loophole could increase toxic air emissions by as much as 480 percent, or almost 50 million pounds per year.
This rollback is especially alarming in the midst of the global coronavirus pandemic. Studies have found that people who live in areas with high levels of air pollution are at greater risk for severe cases of COVID-19.
10. Continuing Its Quest to Censor Science
In 2018, the EPA proposed a disastrous rule significantly limiting the kinds of science the agency can rely on to justify environmental regulations. The rule would have prohibited the agency from using studies that don't make their underlying data publicly available or whose results can't be replicated. That change would prevent the EPA from including in its future risk assessments most human health studies, because personal medical data must remain confidential. The rule would undermine studies that are foundational to clean air regulations.
The proposal sparked enormous opposition from scientists, academics and environmental health advocates. More than 600,000 public comments were submitted to the agency, the vast majority in opposition. In September 2019, the EPA dropped the proposal from its regulatory agenda.
But the Trump EPA is at it again. In March, the agency issued a supplemental proposal that is actually worse than the original proposal. The 2018 proposal applied to all "dose response" studies, but the new proposal applies to all studies. The new proposal also applies retroactively, which means the EPA could use it to gut existing regulations.
As these actions – and dozens of others – show, the Trump EPA has aggressively worked to erode and eliminate vital environmental and public health protections. The public needs an EPA that will prioritize people and planet over polluters and profit.
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By Deborah Moore, Michael Simon and Darryl Knudsen
There's some good news amidst the grim global pandemic: At long last, the world's largest dam removal is finally happening.
A young activist for a free-flowing Salween River. A team of campaigners and lawyers from EarthRights International joined Indigenous Karen communities on the Salween in 2018 to celebrate the International Day of Actions for Rivers on March 14. This year, EarthRights joined communities living in the Eu-Wae-Tta internally displaced persons camp for a celebration in solidarity with those impacted by dam projects on the Salween River. EarthRights International<p>The dam removal project is a sign of the decline of the hydropower industry, whose fortunes have fallen as the <a href="https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-46098118" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">troubling</a> cost-benefit ratio of dams has become clear over the years. The rise of more cost-effective and sustainable energy sources (including wind and solar) has hastened this shift. This is exactly the type of progress envisioned by the <a href="https://www.yumpu.com/en/document/read/17023836/dams-and-development-a-new-framework-for-decision" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">World Commission on Dams</a> (WCD), a global multi-stakeholder body that was established by the World Bank and International Union for Conservation of Nature in 1998 to investigate the effectiveness and performance of large dams around the world. The WCD released a damning landmark <a href="https://www.un.org/press/en/2000/20001117.dam.pressconferencepm.doc.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">report</a> in November 2000 on the enormous financial, environmental and human costs and the dismal performance of large dams. The commission spent <a href="https://www.un.org/press/en/2000/20001117.dam.pressconferencepm.doc.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">two years</a> analyzing the outcome of the trillions of dollars invested in dams, reviewing dozens of case studies and testimonies from over a thousand communities and individuals, before producing the report.</p><p>But despite this progress, we cannot take hydropower's decline as inevitable. As governments around the world plan for a post-pandemic recovery, hydropower companies sense an opportunity. The industry is eager to recast itself as climate-friendly (<a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/how-green-is-hydropower-1919539525.html" target="_self">it's not</a>) and <a href="https://www.hydropower.org/covid-19" target="_blank">secure</a> precious stimulus funds to revive its dying industry — at the expense of people, the environment and a truly just, green recovery.</p>
Hydropower’s Troubling Record<p>The world's largest hydropower dam removal project on the Klamath River is a significant win for tribal communities. But while the Yurok and Karuk tribes <a href="https://www.karuk.us/images/docs/press/bring_salmon_home.php" target="_blank">suffered</a> terribly from the decline of the Klamath's fisheries, they were by no means alone in that experience. The environmental catastrophe that occurred along the Klamath River has been replicated all over the world since the global boom in hydropower construction <a href="https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/article/hydropower" target="_blank">began</a> early in the 20th century.</p><p>The rush to dam rivers has had huge consequences. After decades of rampant construction, only <a href="https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2019/05/worlds-free-flowing-rivers-mapped-hydropower/" target="_blank">37 percent of the world's rivers remain free-flowing</a>, according to <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-019-1111-9" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">one study</a>. River fragmentation has <a href="https://academic.oup.com/bioscience/article/70/4/330/5732594" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">decimated freshwater habitats and fish stocks</a>, threatening food security for millions of the world's most vulnerable people, and hastening the <a href="https://www.forbes.com/sites/jeffopperman/2020/10/13/freshwater-wildlife-continues-to-decline-but-new-energy-trendlines-suggest-we-can-bend-that-curve/?sh=f9d175a61ee4" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">decline of other myriad freshwater species</a>, including mammals, birds and reptiles.</p><p>The communities that experienced the most harm from dams — whether in Asia, Latin America or Africa — often lacked political power and access. But that didn't stop grassroots movements from organizing and growing to fight for their rights and livelihoods. The people affected by dams began raising their voices, sharing their experiences and forging alliances across borders. By the 1990s, the public <a href="https://tinyurl.com/y55lnlst" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">outcry</a> against large dams had grown so loud that it finally led to the establishment of the WCD.</p><p>What the WCD found was stunning. While large dam projects had brought some economic benefits, they had also <a href="https://www.irn.org/wcd/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">forcibly displaced an estimated 40 to 80 million people in the 20th century alone</a>. To put that number into perspective, it is more than the current population of present-day <a href="https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.POP.TOTL?locations=FR" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">France</a> or the <a href="https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.POP.TOTL?locations=GB" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">United Kingdom</a>. These people lost their lands and homes to dams, and often with no compensation.</p><p>Subsequent research has compounded that finding. A paper published in <a href="https://tinyurl.com/c7uznz" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Water Alternatives</a> revealed that globally, more than <a href="https://tinyurl.com/yxw8x7ab" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">470 million people living downstream from large dams</a> have faced significant impacts to their lives and livelihoods — much of it due to disruptions in water supply, which in turn harm the complex web of life that depends on healthy, free-flowing rivers. The WCD's findings, released in 2000, <a href="https://www.irn.org/wcd/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">identified</a> the importance of restoring rivers, compensating communities for their losses, and finding better energy alternatives to save rivers and ecosystems.</p>
Facing a New Crisis<p>Twenty years after the WCD uncovered a crisis along the world's rivers and recommended a new development path — one that advances community-driven development and protects freshwater resources — we find ourselves in the midst of another crisis. The global pandemic has hit us hard, with surging loss of life, unemployment and instability.</p><p>But as governments work to rebuild economies and create job opportunities in the coming years, we have a choice: Double down on the failed, outdated technologies that have harmed so many, or change course and use this transformative moment to rebuild our natural systems and uplift communities.</p><p>There are many reasons to fight for a green recovery. The climate is changing even <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-018-07586-5" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">faster</a> than expected, and some dams — especially those with reservoirs in hot climates — <a href="https://tinyurl.com/w6w29t8" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">have been found to emit more greenhouse gases than a fossil fuel power plant</a>. Other estimates have put global reservoirs' human-made greenhouse gas emissions each year on par with <a href="https://www.climatecentral.org/news/greenhouse-gases-reservoirs-fuel-climate-change-20745" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Canada's</a> total emissions.</p><p>Meanwhile, we now understand that healthy rivers and freshwater ecosystems play a <a href="https://www.environment.gov.au/system/files/resources/b55b1fe4-7d09-47af-96c4-6cbb5f106d4f/files/wetlands-role-carbon-cycle.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">critical role in regulating and storing carbon</a>. And at a time when <a href="https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/blog/2019/05/nature-decline-unprecedented-report/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">biodiversity loss is soaring</a>, anything we can do to <a href="https://academic.oup.com/bioscience/article/70/4/330/5732594" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">restore habitat is key</a>. But with <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/271996520_A_Global_Boom_in_Hydropower_dam_Construction" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">more than 3,700 major dams proposed or under construction</a> in the world (primarily in the Global South, with over <a href="https://news.mongabay.com/2020/08/more-than-500-dams-planned-inside-protected-areas-study/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">500 of these in protected areas</a>), according to a 2014 report — and the hydropower industry <a href="https://www.hydropower.org/covid-19" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">jockeying</a> for scarce stimulus dollars — we must act urgently.</p>
Signs of Hope<img lazy-loadable="true" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTcxMzUyMS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxOTcyNTc3OX0.EbqBVPs2kjhrY5AqnZXOb_GX-s6pw4qyJmmeISzKA6U/img.png?width=980" id="a81d0" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="87bc79d69f72e9334a78da8e0355e6ae" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1620" data-height="1068" />
Fish catch at the Siphandone on the Mekong River, prior to the completion of the Don Sahong Dam. Pai Deetes / International Rivers<p>So what would a strong, resilient and equitable recovery look like in the 21st century? Let's consider one example in Southeast Asia.</p><p>Running through six countries, the Mekong River is the world's 12th-longest river, which is home to one of the world's most biodiverse regions, and includes the world's <a href="https://www.worldwildlife.org/places/greater-mekong#" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">largest</a> inland fishery. Around <a href="https://tinyurl.com/y6jrarjo" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">80 percent of the nearly 65 million people</a> who live in the Lower Mekong River Basin depend on the river for their livelihoods, according to the Mekong River Commission. In 1994, Thailand built the Pak Mun Dam on a Mekong tributary. <a href="https://tinyurl.com/y5ekfp4h" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Six years later</a>, the <a href="https://tinyurl.com/yxcvs6up" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">WCD studied the dam's performance</a> and submitted its conclusions and recommendations as part of its final report in 2000. According to the WCD report, the Pak Mun Dam did not deliver the peaking energy service it was designed for, and it <a href="https://tinyurl.com/y38p3jaw" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">physically blocked a critical migration route</a> for a range of fish species that migrated annually to breeding grounds upstream in the Mun River Basin. Cut off from their customary habitat, fish stocks plummeted, and so did the livelihoods of the local people.</p><p>Neighboring Laos, instead of learning from this debacle, followed in Thailand's footsteps, <a href="https://tinyurl.com/y4eaxcq2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">constructing two dams on the river's mainstem</a>, Xayaburi Dam, commissioned in 2019, and Don Sahong Dam, commissioned in 2020. But then a sign of hope appeared. In early 2020, just as the pandemic began to spread across the world, the <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/20/cambodia-scraps-plans-for-mekong-hydropower-dams" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Cambodian government reconsidered its plans to build more dams on the Mekong</a>. The science was indisputable: A government-commissioned report showed that further dams would <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/may/16/leaked-report-warns-cambodias-biggest-dam-could-literally-kill-mekong-river" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reduce the river's wild fisheries, threaten critically endangered Irrawaddy dolphins</a> and <a href="https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/2013WR014651" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">block nutrient-rich sediment from the delta's fertile agricultural lands</a>.</p><p><a href="https://data.opendevelopmentmekong.net/dataset/4f1bb5fd-a564-4d37-878b-c288af460143/resource/5f6fe360-7a68-480d-9ba4-12d7b8b805c9/download/volume-3_solar-alternative-to-sambor-dam.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Studies</a> show that Cambodia didn't need to seek billions of dollars in loans to build more hydropower; instead, it could pursue more cost-effective solar and wind projects that would deliver needed electricity at a fraction of the cost — and <a href="https://www.worldwildlife.org/press-releases/wwf-statement-on-cambodian-government-s-decision-to-suspend-hydropower-dam-development-on-the-mekong-river" target="_blank">without the ecological disasters to fisheries and the verdant Mekong delta</a>. And, in a stunning reversal, Cambodia listened to the science — and to the people — and <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/20/cambodia-scraps-plans-for-mekong-hydropower-dams" target="_blank">announced</a> a 10-year moratorium on mainstream dams. Cambodia is now <a href="https://www.voanews.com/east-asia-pacific/cambodia-halts-hydropower-construction-mekong-river-until-2030" target="_blank">reconsidering</a> its energy mix, recognizing that mainstream hydropower dams are too costly and undermine the economic and cultural values of its flagship river.</p>
Toward a Green Recovery<img lazy-loadable="true" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTcxMzUwOS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTMwMjk0M30.0LZCOEVzgtgjm2_7CwcbFfuZlrtUr80DiRYxqKGaKIg/img.jpg?width=980" id="87fe9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="e6b9bfeb013516f6ad5033bb9e03c5ec" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="2100" data-height="3086" />
Klamath River Rapids. Tupper Ansel Blake / U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service<p>Increasingly, governments, civil servants and the public at large are rethinking how we produce energy and are seeking to preserve and restore precious freshwater resources. Dam removals are increasing exponentially across <a href="https://www.americanrivers.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/DamsRemoved_1999-2019.pdf" target="_blank">North America</a> and <a href="https://damremoval.eu/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/DRE-policy-Report-2018-digitaal-010319.pdf" target="_blank">Europe</a>, and movements advancing <a href="https://www.rightsofrivers.org/" target="_blank">permanent river protection are growing across Latin America, Asia and Africa</a>.</p><p>We must use the COVID-19 crisis to accelerate the trend. Rather than relying on old destructive technologies and industry claims of newfound "<a href="https://www.hydrosustainability.org/news/2020/11/12/consultation-on-a-groundbreaking-global-sustainability-standard-for-hydropower" target="_blank">sustainable hydropower</a>," the world requires a new paradigm for an economic recovery that is rooted both in climate and economic justice as well as river stewardship. Since December 2020, hundreds of groups and individuals from more than 80 countries have joined the <a href="https://www.rivers4recovery.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Rivers4Recovery</a> call for a better way forward for rivers and natural places. This paradigm will protect our rivers as critical lifelines — supporting fisheries, biodiversity, water supply, food production, Indigenous peoples and diverse populations around the world — rather than damming and polluting them.</p><p>The promise of the Klamath dam removals is one of restoration — a move that finally recognizes the immense value of free-flowing rivers and the key role they play in <a href="https://f.hubspotusercontent20.net/hubfs/4783129/LPR/PDFs/Living_Planet_Report_Freshwater_Deepdive.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">nourishing both the world's biodiversity and hundreds of millions of people</a>. Healthy rivers — connected to watershed forests, floodplains, wetlands and deltas — are key partners in building resilience in the face of an accelerating climate crisis. But if we allow the hydropower industry to succeed in its <a href="https://www.world-energy.org/article/12361.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cynical grab for stimulus funds</a>, we'll only perpetuate the 20th century's legacy of suffering and environmental degradation.</p><p>We must put our money where our values are. Twenty years ago, the WCD pointed the way forward to a model of development that takes humans, wildlife and the environment into account, and in 2020, we saw that vision flower along the Klamath River. It's time to bring that promise of healing and restoration to more of the world's rivers.</p><p><em>Deborah Moore is a former commissioner of the <a href="https://www.water-alternatives.org/index.php/alldoc/articles/vol3/v3issue2/79-a3-2-2/file" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer" style="">World Commission on Dams</a>. Michael Simon was a member of the <a href="https://www.hydrosustainability.org/assessment-protocol" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer" style="">Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Forum</a>. Darryl Knudsen is the executive director of <a href="https://www.internationalrivers.org" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer" style="">International Rivers</a>.</em></p><p><em>This article first appeared on <a href="https://truthout.org/articles/damming-rivers-is-terrible-for-human-rights-ecosystems-and-food-security/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Truthout</a> and was produced in partnership with <a href="https://independentmediainstitute.org/earth-food-life/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Earth | Food | Life</a>, a project of the Independent Media Institute.</em></p>
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