Trump administration continues efforts to gut Clean Water Act protections

A boy explores a creek at Sherando Lake State Park in western Virginia. (© Amy Benoit)

The Trump administration today completed its repeal of the 2015 Clean Water Rule, part of its multi-phase effort to gut Clean Water Act protections across the nation. This move undermines the definition of which waters are protected by the Clean Water Act, putting the streams, wetlands, and rivers that our communities depend on in danger.

They want to pretend that pollution doesn’t flow downstream, when everyone knows that the best way to keep water clean is to stop harmful pollution at its source.”

—Blan Holman, Managing Attorney

With the repeal of that rule, the Trump administration has left many streams and wetlands without any safeguards against pollution, threatening the larger bodies of water they flow into. The administration plans to go even further by drastically redefining what waters are protected by the act.

“Once again, this federal administration is attacking our nation’s clean water defenses to help big polluters instead of protecting our families and communities,” said Blan Holman, managing attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center’s Charleston office. “They want to pretend that pollution doesn’t flow downstream, when everyone knows that the best way to keep water clean is to stop harmful pollution at its source.”

The Clean Water Act requires anyone discharging pollutants into the nation’s waters to seek a permit that sets limits on allowable pollution and protects water quality standards. The repeal of the Clean Water Rule and the planned next steps will give polluters carte blanche to contaminate or completely destroy wetlands and smaller streams that would no longer fall under the Clean Water Act umbrella.

The administration’s moves will strip federal protection from waters that supply the drinking water for more than 200 million Americans. The new rules also will make it harder to protect the wetlands that help prevent flooding, filter pollutants and recharge groundwater reserves.

The administration plans to strip safeguards from headwaters and ephemeral streams. As most Americans know, our waters are interconnected. You can’t dump contaminants into a small, ephemeral stream without risking contamination downstream. For the Clean Water Act to fulfill its purpose of ensuring every American has safe water to drink, and swim in, and fish from, all streams and wetlands must remain protected. The only way to do that is to stop pollution at the source.

SELC will continue our work on multiple front to stop these changes and other roll backs of laws that safeguard our health and our waterways.

“This administration wants to slash environmental protections in this country, but we are going to fight them every inch of the way,” Holman said.

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