Amid Health Crisis, Trump Administration Advances Rule to Gut Essential Clean Water Protections
WASHINGTON, DC – As communities across the country take action against COVID-19, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers today published a rule in the Federal Register that guts long-established clean water protections and further threatens the health of those communities.
“As communities throughout the country battle a growing public health crisis, this administration is intent on stripping away long-established protections against pollution in the rivers and lakes Americans rely on for drinking water,” said Blan Holman, former senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) and leader of SELC’s Clean Water Defense Initiative. “At a time when so many Americans are undertaking an unprecedented effort to protect public health, the federal government is recklessly removing the country’s most basic clean water protections.”
The final rule published in the Federal Register today and announced by the EPA and the Army Corps in January redefines which “waters of the United States” are protected under the Clean Water Act and eliminates clean water protections that have prevented unchecked pollution from entering our waterways and drinking water sources for almost 50 years.
In finalizing this rule, the EPA is making pollution worse, violating Supreme Court precedent, upending decades of well-established agency practice, and embracing an approach Congress explicitly rejected when it passed the Clean Water Act in 1972 with bipartisan support. The agency’s own Science Advisory Board—consisting mostly of scientists appointed by the Trump administration—warned that this rule was inconsistent with established science.
The overwhelming majority of over 600,000 comments received by the EPA opposed the rule. Americans across the country voiced concerns about the EPA’s proposed rule including state floodplain and wetland managers, state wildlife and environmental agencies, family commercial fishing businesses, fly-fishing related businesses, river guides and paddling outfitters, outdoor apparel company Patagonia, outdoor recreational enthusiasts, 59 craft breweries from across the country, twelve scientific societies that represent more than 200,000 scientists, numerous associations representing public and children’s health advocates, cities and counties, small and family farmers, environmental law professors, faith organizations and multiple conservation organizations. In April 2019, SELC filed comments on the EPA’s proposal on behalf of 80 nonprofit organizations. Full comments are available here.
In October 2019, SELC also previously challenged the EPA’s and Army Corps’ repeal of the Clean Water Rule in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina on behalf of several conservation groups.