Millions of acres of wetlands, miles of streams, and countless sources of fresh drinking water will be left unprotected with the passage of new policies from the Trump administration.
Packaged as an initiative to reduce governmental control of farmers’ and landowners’ rights, the measure will roll back clean water rules that were put in place during the presidency of George H.W. Bush, the New York Times reports.
President Donald Trump has promised on multiple occasions to keep U.S. water “crystal-clean,” though his plan will remove major environmental rules dealing with plowing methods, pesticide and fertilizer applications, and chemical runoff, as well as limits on emissions from automobiles, and drilling in protected lands by oil and energy companies.
“They’re definitely rolling things back to the pre-George H.W. Bush era,” Blan Holman, a water regulations expert with the Southern Environmental Law Center, told the New York Times.
Trump set his “Restoring the Rule of Law, Federalism, and Economic Growth by Reviewing the ‘Waters of the United States’ Rule” in motion in February 2017. On Tuesday, Dec. 15, acting Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler signed Trump’s order withdrawing federal protections for American waterways and wetlands. The EPA must allow a 60 day period following the plan’s signing for congressional review and public comment, Fox News reports, before the rollbacks take effect.
The Obama administration’s Waters of the United States rule was put together with input from the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers, building on the 1972 Clean Water Act, which effectively reduced water pollution in much of the country by 60 percent.
Trump’s plan, while leaving the restrictions related to major lakes and rivers in tact, will remove protections from tertiary streams and wetlands that are not directly adjacent to those bodies of water, whether they runoff into them or not.
According to Weather.com, the waterways at stake in this plan help buffer communities from drought, floods, and hurricanes, while providing critical habitats for wildlife. Jan Goldman-Carter of the National Wildlife Federation told the Weather Channel that, if approved, the rollback would “leave waterways more vulnerable to destruction by developers and farmers or to oil spills, fertilizer runoff and other pollutants.”
“The Trump administration has just given a big Christmas gift to polluters,” Bob Irvin, president of the American Rivers environmental nonprofit, told the Associated Press. “Americans all over the country are concerned about the safety of their drinking water — this is not the time to be rolling back protections.”
Still, not everyone is opposed to the changes, among them, many farmers.
“The Obama administration led with the premise that all water is connected, all water runs downhill, and the federal government could control all water,” Don Parrish, director of regulatory relations with the American Farm Bureau Federation, told Fox News. “If they can control the water that falls out of the sky, they control the land that it falls on.”
Parrish was not a fan of the previous administration’s policies, saying it “called our concerns silly and ludicrous, and this administration took us seriously. They listened to us.”
During the 60-day period for congressional and public comment, a number of environmental groups are expected to step forward with legal challenges. Like the argument that is currently halting construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline, the Trump administration may be asked to prove it’s made the proper considerations for this measure’s environmental impact.
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Matthew Russell is a West Michigan native and with a background in journalism, data analysis, cartography and design thinking. He likes to learn new things and solve old problems whenever possible, and enjoys bicycling, going to the dog park, spending time with his daughter, and coffee.