Trump Administration Launches Bid to Strip Protection from South’s Rivers, Lakes, and Streams

Public Comment Period Kicks Off as the Southern Environmental Law Center and Groups Act to Oppose Repeal of Science-Based Protections for America’s Waterways

Washington, D.C. - The Southern Environmental Law Center released the following statement ahead of the Trump Administration’s expected move to formally repeal the 2015 Clean Water Rule tomorrow as a first step in greatly reducing water quality protections under the Clean Water Act. The Environmental Protection Agency’s announcement in the Federal Register kicks off a 30-day comment period, during which SELC will work with communities across the South to ensure their opposition to this repeal is heard by the administration.

“It is now painfully obvious that our nation’s Environmental Protection Agency has been commandeered by Washington special interest groups representing polluters with deep pockets whose goal is to strip away as much protection as they can from our clean water. This proposal is a big gift to polluters and an attack on the rivers, streams, and lakes that we love and depend on for drinking water and outdoor recreation,” said Blan Holman, senior attorney at SELC. “Today’s move is just a first step to peel away our clean water defenses, rejecting science and the basic common sense of controlling pollution upstream so it doesn’t contaminate our drinking water and hurt the health of our families and communities.”

“The Trump administration’s bid to gut the nation’s water protections paints a giant target on the South.  Not only are Southern states home to more miles of streams and more acres of wetlands than other regions, but our underfunded state water programs mean this would hit the South doubly hard. We’ve worked with Southern communities for three decades to clean up and protect our waters from unchecked pollution, and we will make our voices heard loud and clear on what a disaster repealing clean water protections would be.”

The expected announcement from the EPA tomorrow formalizes its attack on the Clean Water Rule, which was issued in May 2015 to provide clarity after a series of U.S. Supreme Court decisions confused the extent of waters protected by the Clean Water Act. The rule defines which streams, wetlands, and other waters are protected against pollution and contains exemptions for normal farming and forestry activities.   

These basic safeguards protect the waters that nearly 20 million people in six Southern states—Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee—depend on for drinking water. These states are also home to more than 600,000 miles of streams and approximately 22 million acres of wetlands, which help filter polluted runoff, reduce the risk of flooding, and provide important wildlife habitat.

Without Clean Water Act protections in place, polluters can dump pollutants including sewage, toxic materials, and fill materials directly into small streams and wetlands without limitations.  

More than a million comments were received on the Clean Water Rule when it was proposed, including comments from ordinary citizens as well as state leaders, small businesses, local elected officials, sportsmen groups, health organizations and conservation groups.

Southern waters facing the greatest risk if the Clean Water Rule is repealed include:

Alabama:  Isolated wetlands and over half (54 percent) of the stream miles that supply water for public drinking water systems for 2.6 million people.

Georgia:  Small creeks in the northern mountains, cypress domes in the Coastal Plain, and over half the stream miles (56 percent) in the Piedmont that supply water to public drinking water systems for 4.9 million people.

North Carolina:  Small trout streams in the Appalachians, pocosin wetlands that help maintain fishery nursery areas along the coast, and over half (56 percent) of the stream miles in the Piedmont and mountains that supply water for public drinking water systems for 4.7 million people.

South Carolina:  Small creeks in the mountains that flow into the Reedy and Congaree Rivers, namesake Carolina Bays along the coast, and approximately half (51 percent) of the stream miles that supply water for public drinking water systems for 1.9 million people.

Tennessee:  Small trout streams in the mountains, upland swamps on the Cumberland Plateau and highland bogs, and over half (57 percent) of the stream miles that supply water for public drinking water systems for 3.5 million people. 

Virginia:  Small trout streams and bogs in the mountains, headwater streams and associated wetlands that filter much of the pollution that would otherwise enter Chesapeake Bay, and over half (57 percent) of the stream miles that supply water for public drinking water systems for 2.3 million people.

Percentages given above are from EPA’s own analysis in 2009.

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About The Southern Environmental Law Center:
The Southern Environmental Law Center is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. With nine offices across the region (Charlottesville, VA; Chapel Hill, NC; Atlanta, GA; Charleston, SC; Washington, DC; Birmingham, AL; Nashville, TN; Asheville, NC; and Richmond, VA), SELC is widely recognized as the Southeast’s foremost environmental organization and regional leader. SELC works on a full range of environmental issues to protect the South’s natural resources and the health and well-being of all the people in our region. www.SouthernEnvironment.org

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