Crystal Clear Water For Americans? Not Under Trump’s New Policies

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Last June, Donald Trump bragged to a carefully selected audience of obedient followers in Florida, “Something I want to make clear to the media: We have among the cleanest and sharpest — crystal clean, you’ve heard me say, I want crystal clean — air and water anywhere on Earth. We are creating a future of American energy independence, and yet our air and water are the cleanest they’ve ever been by far.”

EPA logo
Credit: EPA

That’s a lie. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, “After declining by 24.2% from 2009 to 2016, annual average fine particulate matter (PM2.5) in the United States in counties with monitors increased by 5.5% between 2016 and 2018.” The increase in dirty air led to 9,700 premature American deaths with an economic impact of $89 billion.

The Clean Water Act was passed in 1972 but there have always been questions about precisely what bodies of water were regulated by it. When President Obama expanded its application to include many more bodies of water — some of them seasonal — with his Waters of the United States policy, the move ignited a firestorm of controversy. 27 states sued to block WOTUS. Farmers, land developers, and mining companies mounted a furious opposition campaign, mocking the policy as the greatest example of federal overreach in history.

Now the EPA under former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler has announced it is revoking WOTUS. But it is going even further, rolling back federal jurisdiction over bodies of water beyond what existed before Obama took office.

Speaking to the National Association of Home Builders International Builders’ Show in Las Vegas recently, Wheeler proudly proclaimed, “All states have their own protections for waters within their borders, and many regulate more broadly than the federal government. Our new rule recognizes this relationship and strikes the proper balance between Washington, D.C., and the states. And it clearly details which waters are subject to federal control under the Clean Water Act and, importantly, which waters falls solely under the states’ jurisdiction.”

One can only wonder why states are deemed capable of governing water quality within their borders while California is denied the ability to regulate its own air quality under the Clean Air Act. Such cognitive dissonance is commonplace in a maladministration that consistently adopts a “heads we win, tails you lose” attitude. The truth is the government under Trump is killing American citizens to curry favor with its deep-pocketed friends in the business community. And his “base” is perfectly okay with that.

Americans Are The Big Losers

“This will be the biggest loss of clean water protection the country has ever seen,” Blan Holman, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, 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.”

Speaking to the American Farm Bureau Federation Annual Convention and Trade Show in Austin, Texas, last week, Trump thundered, “I terminated one of the most ridiculous regulations of all — the last administration’s disastrous Waters of the United States rule. Thank you. It’s gone. That was a rule that basically took your property away from you.”

Another lie. The Obama-era rule was 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,” said Vermont Law School environmental law professor Patrick Parenteau. “Waters that have been protected for almost 50 years will no longer be protected under the Clean Water Act.”

Water Moves Underground? D’oh!

Pretend, if you will, to channel Rod Serling for a moment — a president so brain dead he can’t comprehend the notion that water moves underground, and if you throw your used motor oil over the back fence into the marsh beyond, it will eventually contribute to pollution further downstream. This is a concept that should be intuitively obvious to any 8 year old. Do we have to settle for less from our president? What happens in a slough in North Dakota has an impact on water quality in Lake Michigan. The environment is no respecter of political boundaries.

Even Trump’s handpicked advisers point out the folly of the rules rollback. Late last year, the EPA’s own scientific advisers, the majority of whom are Trump appointees, issued a draft report saying the proposed action was “in conflict with established science … and the objectives of the Clean Water Act.”

A Tsunami Of Criticism

“President Trump’s administration wants to make our waters burn again,” Earthjustice attorney Janette Brimmer said in a statement reported by Politico. “This all-out assault on basic safeguards will send our country back to the days when corporate polluters could dump whatever sludge or slime they wished into the streams and wetlands that often connect to the water we drink.”

Gina McCarthy, the EPA administrator under Obama, heaped abuse on the new policy. “So much for the ‘crystal clear’ water President Trump promised. You don’t make America great by polluting our drinking water supplies, making our beaches unfit for swimming, and increasing flood risk,” she said in a statement. “This effort neglects established science and poses substantial new risks to people’s health and the environment. We will do all we can to fight this attack on clean water. We will not let it stand.” 14 states have already filed suit to block the policy.

In an email to CleanTechnica, Catherine Kling, an environmental economist at Cornell University and a faculty director at the Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability, had this to say about the rollback: “The goal of the Trump Administration rollback is to reduce the obligations of farmers, ranchers, and other landowners in their requirements to protect water quality in the U.S. This will lower regulatory costs to that group of Americans. But there are costs to the environment that will be borne by other Americans.

“These environmental costs include the loss of healthy drinking water to millions of Americans who rely on private wells; increased occurrence and severity of harmful algal bloom outbreaks that sicken swimmers, kill pets and wildlife; reduced usage and enjoyment of outdoor recreation areas; lost habitat for wildlife and flora; and declining property values of homeowners and businesses located near impacted lakes and rivers.”

Her colleague Amanda Rodewald, senior director of conservation science with Cornell University’s Lab of Ornithology, served as the chair of the EPA’s Science Advisory Board during a review of the science underpinning the Waters of the United States rule. She says, “Under the new rule, over half of wetlands and almost one-fifth of streams nationwide — including almost 40% of streams in the Arid West — will no longer be protected under the Clean Water Act. The rule is not consistent with the science and it contradicts previous interpretations of the CWA that have received bipartisan support since the act was first signed into law by President Nixon.

“The proposed rule will erode protection for thousands of kilometers of ephemeral and headwater streams and 16.3 million acres of wetlands in the U.S. In doing so, the rule increases the vulnerability of already-sensitive waters that provide critical ecosystem services, such as protecting water quality, recharging aquifers, transporting organic material, safeguarding habitats for endangered species, and supporting recreational and commercial endeavors.”

Is This What Winning Looks Like?

The new policy may delight supporters of IQ 45*, who are obsessed with winning at all costs regardless of the consequences. Unfortunately, policies such as these make losers of us all, even the so-called winners.

*Hat Tip to Tracey Anderson.

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new."

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