Gutting States’ Power to Protect Clean Water


Last week, Trump Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) chief Andrew Wheeler announced their new proposal for gutting states’ powers to protect clean water.

Trump and his EPA have been repeatedly frustrated by states’ use of Clean Water Act powers to demand that pipelines and other energy projects protect rivers, streams, and wetlands. Their predictable response is to rewrite the rules and allow clean water problems to be disregarded. In the process, they would strip states of the right to use the Clean Water Act Section 401 certification process to challenge most federally permitted activities that would degrade water quality.

Both pipelines and major land developments, for example, would likely get knocked out of the reviewable category because neither would qualify under the proposed new limitation of review to “point source” discharges only. In addition, only discharges directly to “waters of the United States” would be covered. The new 401 water quality certifications rule would operate in toxic synergy with the Trump EPA’s restrictive new definition of those waters, which excludes wetlands, headwaters streams, and other smaller tributaries of “navigable waters.” Acting in concert, these changes are a polluter’s dream and a clean water nightmare.

“The Trump EPA is already trying to surrender its own power to protect clean water,” said NCLCV Director of Governmental Relations Dan Crawford. “Now, it wants to take that power away from the states as well. This proposed new rule helps no one but big polluters who want to line their pockets at the expense of clean public drinking water.”

National environmental watchdog groups immediately blasted the proposal as well. 

“This proposal would leave states and tribes at the mercy of project developers and federal agencies that couldn’t care less about protecting water resources, or lack the expertise to do so,” said Natural Resources Defense Council’s (NRDC) director of federal water policy Jon Devine. “It’s also another example of the Trump EPA’s hypocrisy: When EPA wants to worsen water pollution, it claims it’s returning power to local authorities. But when those local authorities try to exercise their rights to make waterways healthier, EPA steps in and says no. Polluters win, again.”

“Apparently the Trump administration only likes states’ rights when it can use them as an excuse to allow polluters to destroy streams and pave over wetlands, not when states and tribes want to actually protect their waterways from pipelines or other harmful projects,” observed national League of Conservation Voters (LCV) Deputy Legislative Director Madeleine Foote. “Section 401 is an incredibly important piece of the Clean Water Act that has allowed states and tribes to protect the waters their communities depend on for drinking, recreation, and fueling healthy local economies.”

The new rule is slated to take effect 60 days after it was published in the Federal Register. During that time, we encourage you to submit a public comment on this egregious proposal here.

Up next, Enough Games. Time to Negotiate >>

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