On December 11, the Trump Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), led by former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler, moved aggressively to change the agency’s definition of “Waters of the US” (WOTUS). This latest move continues the strategy of the embattled former EPA chief Scott Pruitt to significantly weaken many long-standing environmental protections. If successful, the new rule would significantly weaken protections for the nation’s waterways, to levels not seen since before the Clean Water Act was passed in 1972.
The federal Clean Water Act is a crucial piece of legislation that protects clean drinking water for millions of Americans and prevents toxic dumping and dangerous contamination of our rivers, lakes, streams and coastal waters. Under the landmark legislation, all waterways are expected to meet standards for swimmable, fishable waters. The federal government’s move today to roll back its interpretation of Clean Water Act protections for a large number of wetlands and streams endangers public health and the future of our shared waters.
“All waterways are connected,” said Puget Soundkeeper Executive Director Chris Wilke. “This move puts millions of people at risk from toxic pollution, while eroding more than 40 years of protection for countless important waterways. The Environmental Protection Agency should be protecting the public, not bowing to the demands of corporations and special interests.”
With communities around the country experiencing unsafe drinking water conditions, and over half of waterways in the U.S. officially listed as “impaired” under the Clean Water Act, our government should be working to better protect waterways, not opening the door to further contamination. The EPA has assessed over 1 million miles of rivers and streams, and the majority violate federal water quality standards necessary to protect human health and aquatic life. The drinking water crisis in Flint, MI and emerging information about new sources of contamination, like flame retardant chemicals and microplastic pollution, make clear that the EPA and other agencies should be taking stronger action to protect safe water. Instead, the agency has chosen to cave to the demands of polluters, while ignoring the science that tells us even the smallest streams and wetlands are important tributaries to rivers, lakes and Puget Sound.
The Clean Water Act cannot function if small streams and wetlands are not protected and thus allowed to be filled-in or used as toxic dumping sites. This irresponsible move by the federal government threatens drinking water for 117 million Americans, and particularly harms those living in areas without adequate water treatment and communities that rely on groundwater or well water.
Puget Soundkeeper vigorously opposes this latest attempt to dismantle critical protections for our waterways. Soundkeeper will fight for all waters, large and small, and will uphold the public’s right to clean, safe water.
This rulemaking will have a comment period. Please sign up to receive our action alerts if you would like to be in touch about opportunities to make your voice heard for the protection of our shared waters.
Video: KING 5 Environmental Reporter Alison Morrow reports on EPA water protection rollback