EPA Moves to Slash Clean Water Act Protections for Millions of People

Photo: courtesy of Chesapeake Bay Program

Proposed rule frees industry to dump toxic waste into streams, allows the destruction of millions of acres of wetlands, and threatens drinking water.

On December 11, 2018, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) unveiled its proposal to replace the 2015 Clean Water Rule with a very narrow, unscientific definition of “waters of the United States” (WOTUS). This proposed rule contradicts the law and science that is the foundation for the Clean Water Act successes of the past 40 years, will remove Clean Water Act protections for millions of wetland acres and stream miles, and will cripple federal and state clean water initiatives for the foreseeable future. EPA’s proposal ignores the robust record in support of the Clean Water Rule, and intentionally limits the opportunity for affected communities to express their views about this proposal. This proposal would remove up to 60% of stream miles and up to 80% of wetland acres from federal protections under the Clean Water Act. 

“Clean water is essential for the health and sustainability of our families, communities and environment. Lest we forget — we all live downstream. We have a responsibility, as a nation, to control pollution at its source and protect the drinking water sources of all residents – regardless of where they live,” said Betsy Nicholas, Executive Director of Waterkeepers Chesapeake. “In the Chesapeake region, streams and tributaries in the upper reaches of the Susquehanna, Potomac, Shenandoah, James and many other rivers, as well as a huge number of wetlands, would not receive protections under the Trump administration’s heartless scheme to repeal the Clean Water Rule.”

The Clean Water Rule was part of a larger effort to clarify the definition of “waters of the United States” under the Clean Water Act. How WOTUS is defined is important because any waterway that meets the WOTUS definition receives Clean Water Act (CWA) protections. Under the Clean Water Rule’s updated definition of WOTUS, CWA protections extended to the drinking water sources of 117 million people across the United States – that’s one in three Americans.

EPA’s proposal would eliminate federal protections for areas that contain water only after rainfall and would no longer regulate groundwater, stormwater, wastewater and land already converted for crops. It would regulate wetlands or waterways only if they are clearly adjacent to navigable waterways above ground or through “direct subsurface connection.”

The proposal would drop federal oversight of gravel and sand pits, which are commonly used in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and old quarries that fill up with water. It also would prevent federal officials from ordering changes in the handling of fertilizers that might spill into small waterways. The changes could benefit coal mining companies that lop off the tops of mountains and fill in valleys with waste, often creating ponds.

In rushing to publish the proposed rule, the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers ignored science, violated the Administrative Procedure Act by halting enforcement of the Clean Water Rule, and failed to comply with either the Endangered Species Act or National Environmental Policy Act. Both laws require the federal government to “look before you leap” and ensure that the environmental consequences of a particular action will not cause unintended environmental damage.

We oppose this heartless scheme to repeal the 2015 Clean Water Rule and to gut the protections that have prevented reckless pollution of the nation’s waterways for decades. Access to safe drinking water is a prerequisite for healthy, thriving communities, where everyone can participate, prosper and reach their full potential. This proposed rule would put water at risk for too many communities by removing protections for streams and wetlands across the nation and our region.

What you can do: Sign this petition today and stay tuned for more actions you can take to stop this attack on your clean water!