Trump plans to roll back environmental rule everyone agrees on
Gina McCarthy and Ken Kopocis, opinion contributors August 8, 2017
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Whether illustrated by the recent drought in California or the lead contamination in Flint, Michigan, we are reminded daily that clean water for all is essential to our existence.
Rivers, lakes, ponds and wetlands supply and cleanse our drinking water, ameliorate storm surges, provide invaluable storage capacity for flood waters, and enhance our quality of life by providing essential habitat, recreational opportunities and important power generation.
Yet President Trump’s EPA is continuing its assault on our nation’s health, as well as states’ rights, through its latest effort to roll back the protections of the 1972 Clean Water Act.
Under the guise of providing “certainty for regulated entities, the States, agency staff and the public,” Trump’s EPA has proposed to repeal the 2015 Clean Water Rule, which designates federal authority over bodies of water that feed into larger waterways in instances where jurisdiction was unclear under the 1972 law.
Rolling back this rule reinstates confusion and uncertainty on how to protect water quality — which harms the joint efforts at the state and federal level that have existed for nearly 45 years. This proposal to dismantle this rule would undermine the courts in an effort to avoid implementing clear, needed protections based on solid science. Scrapping the rule would also undercut the law it is meant to improve, and input gathered through a lengthy and transparent public process.
Even more egregious, EPA has not cited any specific deficiency in the Clean Water Rule it proposes to rescind and that will take away needed protections for thousands of streams and wetlands nationwide that provide drinking water to one in three Americans. Nor is it clear that this administration will ever finalize a replacement rule. But one thing is clear. Should the Trump EPA rescind the Clean Water Rule and propose a replacement rule, the agency will pursue a strategy that runs contrary to prior court decisions.
For years, stakeholders and elected officials on both sides of the aisle have requested clarity on the Clean Water Act. The agriculture, construction and energy industries along with conservation, hunting and fishing communities have demanded more transparency from the EPA on which waters would be protected by the act and — equally important — which would not.
EPA and its partner, the Army Corps of Engineers, published the Clean Water Rule in 2015 to address these demands and reduce the costly and time-consuming case-specific analysis that resulted from a confusing Supreme Court decision in 2006.
The rule followed the best available peer-reviewed science on the impacts of upstream water quality on downstream and adjacent waters. It incorporated over 1 million comments and feedback from over 400 public meetings — but the Trump EPA ignores all of that science and public input in its proposal to withdraw the Clean Water Rule.
No one asked EPA to leave the old, confusing rules in place. Yet, that is precisely what Trump’s EPA now proposes. They ignore the extensive public process used to develop the rule, they ignore the direction of the Supreme Court, (including Chief Justice John Roberts’, calling for a new rule) they ignore transparency by limiting public input to only 30 days compared to the over 200 days for the Clean Water Rule, and they offer no science or policy justification for returning to the confusing, one-off decision making that previously existed and no one supported. If there is better science that supports repeal of the Clean Water Rule, the Trump EPA has not revealed it.
The Trump EPA has put forward a false choice that providing protection against polluting and destroying bodies of water somehow is adverse to states’ interests. States decide how clean their waters will be, and 46 of the 50 States already implement many day-to-day aspects of the Clean Water Act. Plus, a significant number of states have not challenged the Clean Water Rule and their interests are undercut by the proposed rollback.
The Clean Water Act has been a hallmark of success since it was established in 1972 by a bipartisan Congress to provide protections against polluting and destroying bodies of water. But the act’s work is far from finished. State assessments show there are thousands of impaired waters in need of reduced pollution and increased protection to ensure they can provide their essential benefits.
No one ever complains that the water in our rivers, lakes, streams and ponds is too clean, that there are too many healthy fish to catch and eat. There is no outcry that our drinking water is too clean or abundant. Trump’s EPA is turning its back on protecting our nation’s waters and public health.
Gina McCarthy was the head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from 2013 to 2017. She served as an environmental advisor to five Massachusetts Democratic and Republican administrations and was commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection.
Ken Kopocis served as the Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Office of Water at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Previously, he held several senior positions on the staffs of the House of Representative’s Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.