By: Larissa Liebmann
In 1972, waterways in the United States were severely polluted and dangerous. Rivers caught on fire, communities were sickened, and wildlife disappeared. In response to this devastation, Congress passed the Clean Water Act—a monumental law that prohibits pollution and requires restoration of the nation’s waters. Under this law, all waters that are defined as “waters of the United States” (WOTUS) are federally protected against pollution under strict standards that are meant to protect drinking water, wildlife, recreation, and many other uses.
President Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers have proposed a new definition of WOTUS with a singular goal—to give polluters a free pass by eliminating the laws and standards that control their pollution. If this definition is finalized, untreated pollution can be discharged into waters across the United States without meeting any of the Clean Water Act’s permitting and treatment standards.
The proposal would also drastically reduce the types and number of waters protected by the Clean Water Act. This includes rivers, streams, lakes, wetlands, and other waters around the nation. The impacts will be even more severe in the West due to new, complex and unscientific requirements. For example, the rule explicitly excludes all “ephemeral streams,” which flow in only in response to rain or snow, but provide many essential ecological functions and flow into downstream waters and drinking water supplies.
The Trump administration’s proposal undermines the most fundamental premise of the Clean Water Act—that we need broad federal power to control pollution and protect waterways. History and science have shown that allowing unregulated pollution in wetlands and waterways will inevitably lead to broad degradation of water quality around the nation—all waters flow downstream.
The federal government is not yet allowing the public to comment on this incredibly important rulemaking. As soon as the public comment website is up, we will be following up with information on how you can join our fight for a Clean Water Act that protects everyone’s right to clean water.
**Photo: Cleveland State University Library
Dive Into Democracy is Waterkeeper Alliance’s roundup of current attacks on America’s clean water protections and how to take action. Want to get them in your email? Sign up here.