EPA reverses Trump rule that gutted clean water protections
The Environmental Protection Agency announced today draft language to reverse a harmful Trump administration rule that removed federal clean water protections against pollution and destruction from streams, wetlands, and lakes.
The scale of the Trump rule’s impact was unprecedented and went so far as to remove protections for places like South Carolina’s Lake Keowee, which serves as a drinking water reservoir for about 400,000 people, and almost 400 acres of wetlands in the path of a mine on the doorstep of the Okefenokee Swamp.
“Everyone who relies on clean water benefits from getting rid of the previous administration’s unlawful rule that put the interests of industrial polluters before the health and safety of families, communities, and our waterways,” said Senior Attorney Kelly Moser, leader of the SELC’s Clean Water Defense Initiative. “Now the Biden administration must act quickly to strengthen clean water protections so that our nation’s waters are safe for fishing, swimming, and as sources of drinking water.”
With this reversal, federal regulations will revert back to the definition of “waters of the United States” that was in place for decades until 2015, and now being updated to reflect the agency’s reading of relevant Supreme Court decisions. EPA has said they are working on a separate rulemaking that builds upon these laws to create a clear, consistent legal foundation to ensure clean and safe water in all communities.
To understand the scope of protections removed under Trump, SELC undertook an analysis revealing the extreme damage posed by the Trump rule.
Ninety-one percent of wetlands evaluated were determined to be not “waters of the United States” and without protection from pollution and destruction by federal agencies after the Trump administration rollback of clean water protections. Under earlier administrations’ regulations almost the exact opposite was true, and federal agencies determined 99 percent of wetlands were protected.
Expanding to look at wetlands and waters, 92 percent of all waters and wetlands were determined to be not “waters of the United States” and without protection from pollution and destruction by federal agencies after the Trump administration rollback of clean water protections. It was almost the reverse under earlier administration regulations, where federal agencies determined 45 to 53 percent of all waters and wetlands were protected.
SELC’s analysis above is of publicly available data on approved jurisdictional determinations made by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under the Clean Water Act since August 28, 2015.
It is beyond doubt that federal clean water protections have played a central role in making our wetlands, streams, rivers and lakes safe and healthy. SELC will be pushing for strong safeguards nationwide to ensure these waters remain clean for generations to come.