Clean Water is Under Attack
The Administration has directed the EPA to take sweeping measures to undo clean water protections under the Clean Water Rule intended to safeguard the health of our rivers, streams and wetlands. The announcement to repeal the Clean Water Rule represents one of the most serious assaults on our water resources in decades.
What is the Clean Water Rule?
The 2015 Clean Water Rule describes the types of water bodies that are protected by the Clean Water Act and ensures permits related to sewage treatment and industrial pollution apply to smaller bodies of water like streams and wetlands. The streams that feed into the Potomac River are essential to the overall quality of the river itself, and the Clean Water Rule was drafted to protect them.
1. It ensures the protection of more than 2 million miles of rivers and streams throughout the Nation.
2. The rule restored Clean Water Act protections for 60 percent of the nation’s stream miles and millions of acres of wetlands after they were dropped following two US Supreme Court cases a decade ago.
3. One in three Americans gets drinking water from streams that are not clearly protected by the Clean Water Act.
4. The rule protects these waterways. The EPA estimates that the rule directly applies to streams that provide drinking water for 117 million Americans.
5. The rule protects about 57 percent of the streams in Virginia alone.
Why does the Clean Water Rule Exist?
In 2015, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the EPA created the Clean Water Rule to clarify how the Clean Water Act applied to the smaller streams and wetlands. Prior to the rule, pollution cases affecting smaller water bodies were left in limbo, and ultimately compromised, due to loopholes left in the Clean Water Act. The rule acknowledged that large bodies of water could only be clean if the streams and tributaries flowing into them are also protected. Before finalizing the Clean Water Rule in 2015, EPA held more than 400 meetings with stakeholders across the country and published a synthesis of more than 1200 peer-reviewed scientific publications, which showed that the small streams and wetlands the Rule safeguards are vital to larger downstream waters.
Why is the Clean Water Rule Now Targeted for Repeal?
The rule received criticism from industries whose activities in and around smaller streams and wetlands would have been regulated. The rule is now tied up in court, as businesses and agricultural interest groups argue that it represents federal overreach, a vast expansion of the Clean Water Act, and is a threat to the economy. The Congressional Research Service reports contradict this position and showed that the rule was comparable to long established and common sense standards. Nevertheless, President Trump and his EPA Administrator, Scott Pruitt, have vowed to eliminate the Clean Water Rule.
The Future of the Clean Water Rule:
The EPA under the Trump Administration plans to repeal and replace the Clean Water Rule with two separate rule-making processes. Their strategy is to repeal the Clean Water Rule, then create a new rule that would roll back clean water safeguards for wetlands and streams. Administrator Pruitt recently said he hopes to finish both rules by the end of 2017 or early 2018. Ultimately, the Administration’s clean water rollback plan means fewer streams, wetlands, and other waters would be protected by the Clean Water Act.
1. The rollback plan puts the drinking water for one in three Americans at risk.
2. Cut backs would create legacy pollution problems that our children would have to fix at great cost.
3. This threatens to undo 45 years of progress toward cleaning our rivers under the Clean Water Act and is a colossal waste of money already invested
4. Small and rural communities, who rely on private wells or whose water systems lack the resources to deal with polluted sources, may be hit the hardest by the roll back.
5. Clean water is essential to the outdoor economy. In 2011, hunters spent $34 billion, anglers spent $41.8 billion, and wildlife watchers spent $55 billion. Repealing the Clean Water Rule and attacking the Clean Water Act puts our economy at risk.
6. The new rules would lead to the destruction of wetlands that prevent dangerous flooding and help mitigate threats posed by rising water levels worldwide.
7. Healthy streams and their biological communities filter pollutants and can prevent them from making it downstream to rivers, bays and coastal areas. By damaging or destroying our streams and wetlands we disrupt this natural process.
How Would the Repeal of the Clean Water Rule Affect Our Region?
While the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers and Chesapeake Bay would still be under Clean Water Act jurisdiction, we are gravely concerned that many of the small intermittent or perennial streams that are found throughout the Potomac watershed could be vulnerable if the Clean Water Rule is repealed. These small streams are found throughout the watershed, including in the headwaters areas which provide clean water at the source of our rivers.
In the Shenandoah, reversing the Clean Water Rule could eliminate any future hope of regulating agricultural pollution under the Clean Water Act, and would make thousands of streams vulnerable to proposed pipeline projects. In the Upper Potomac, extraction industries like coal and gas occur operate almost exclusively in headwater streams, and loss of regulation over these areas would be potentially devastating. Our urban areas will also be affected. The District has many small streams where residents and families recreate. Losing jurisdiction over those waterways could leave them without protection.
What Can You Do?
Together, we can take a stand by voicing our concerns on the repeal. Submit comments by September 27th!
In episode six, the GW WonkCast team talks with Phillip Musegaas, Vice President of Programs and Litigation at Potomac Riverkeeper Network, an environmental nonprofit that works to protect the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers. Musegaas discusses the current state of water regulation and protection given the repeal and changes to the Clean Water Rule. This rule was […]
The Trump administration launched its assault on our clean water and drinking water protections with a proposed repeal of the Clean Water Rule. A lengthy, deliberate, and inclusive process led to the 2015 Clean Water Rule, a rule protective of vital waterways and based in sound law and sound science. By comparison, the Administration’s scheme […]
In yet another assault on clean water, the EPA recently announced its indefinite delay of new pollution limits for coal fired power plants, known as “Effluent Limitation Guidelines” (ELG) issued by President Obama’s EPA in 2015. After thirty years of inaction by EPA, these new limits on discharges of arsenic, mercury, lead and other toxic […]
Pipeline Projects Will Face Fewer Obstacles Washington, DC (June 28, 2017) By starting the process of repealing the Clean Water Rule yesterday, the Trump Administration put the sources of drinking water for more than 117 million Americans at greater risk, along with the streams and wetlands that filter pollution and provide habitat for wildlife. 1 […]
Since we often rely on Environmental Protection Agency rules and regulatory actions to achieve our goal of protecting the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers from pollution, the Trump administration’s plan to eliminate a quarter of the agency’s 15,000 jobs is deeply troubling. Plans to shrink EPA spending by nearly a third go beyond what could reasonably […]
From Jeff Kelble, PRKN President: Know why I’m fighting mad? The budget cuts proposed by the Administration last week represent the most severe reductions in clean water protections in two generations. Don’t believe claims that they are about trimming fat and making government more efficient – the attacks on several of EPA’s most important functions […]
From Jeff Kelble, President, PRKN: The post-election power shift in Washington creates new challenges to our mission of keeping the Clean Water Act’s promise of swimmable, drinkable and fishable waters alive. If even a fraction of the campaign rhetoric becomes reality, we’re on the brink of the most dramatic federal regulatory rollbacks in decades. While […]
Last April, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released draft Clean Water Act (“CWA”) regulations intended to clarify the federal law’s definition of “waters of the United States.” This is a critically important element of the Act, since only waterways that fit this definition fall under the law’s jurisdiction. […]