Washington D.C. — On June 27, 2017, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt released a proposal to dismantle the Clean Water Rule (The Rule), also known as the “Waters of the United States (WOTUS).” Pruitt is following up on President Trump’s February Executive Order to formally reconsider the 2015 Obama-era version of The Rule. The regulation serves to protect “navigable” rivers and streams from pollution and guards the drinking water of more than 117 million Americans.
“This proposal strikes directly at public health. It would strip out needed protections for the streams that feed drinking water sources for one in every three Americans. Clean water is too important for that. We’ll stand up to this reckless attack on our waters and health,” said Rhea Suh, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) President, in a press release.
The Rule, passed in 1972, was last formally amended in 1987. The definition of “navigable waters of the United States” within the rule is highly debated and the 2015 version has been stayed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, according to the EPA. The Center for Biological Diversity explains in a release that Trump’s order requires the adoption of a narrow interpretation of The Rule. This interpretation is based on a 2006 opinion by Justice Scalia, in which he argued The Rule should only protect “interstate waters that are ‘navigable in fact’ or readily susceptible of being rendered so.”
An EPA map allows viewers to see if their drinking water is at risk due to the changes Trump and Pruitt seek. The map is based on the 2009 EPA “Geographic Information Systems Analysis of the Surface Drinking Water Provided by Intermittent, Ephemeral and Headwater Streams in the U.S.” Readers may click on the image below to link to the interactive EPA map and find out if your drinking water is at risk.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) used the same data to create another detailed and interactive map, which focuses specifically on the 72 million Americans who depend on drinking water from small streams.
When signing the Order, Trump called The Rule “a massive power grab” that put people out of work. He also said “the EPA decided that navigable waters can mean nearly every puddle or every ditch on a farmer’s land, or any place else that they decide.” Pruitt’s proposal describes a two-step revision process and states:
Proposing to re-codify the regulations that existed before the 2015 Clean Water Rule will provide continuity and certainty for regulated entities, states, agency staff and the public. In a second step, the agencies will pursue notice-and-comment rule-making, in which the agencies will conduct a substantive re-evaluation of the definition of ‘Waters of the United States.’
“We are taking significant action to return power to the states and provide regulatory certainty to our nation’s farmers and businesses,” said Pruitt, according to Reuters. Kierán Suckling, Executive Director of the Center for Biological Diversity, shared this opinion on the proposal to roll back U.S. water pollution regulations:
Scott Pruitt is smashing everything he touches at the EPA. Revoking the clean water rule will open the door to polluting and bulldozing some of America’s most important wetlands. From vernal pools in California to prairie pothole ponds in the Midwest, small wetlands provide essential habitat to hundreds of endangered species, birds and migrating wildlife.
Coral Davenport of The New York Times points out the Administration will have to present legal reasoning for these proposed changes, which environmental groups are sure to contest. As revealed in an EnviroNews exclusive interview with Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the Waterkeeper Alliance is already “filing just barrages of suits to stop the dismantling of the Clean Water Act.”