Clean Water Protection in the U.S.A.Water
At the start of the new decade, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) dramatically reduced the number of waterways in America that get protection under the Clean Water Act.
While the consensus was mostly joyous amongst farmers, fossil fuel producers and real estate developers, the rest of the country was concerned about the potential health fallout.
The new rule went into effect on January 23, 2020. It’s reported that the changes by the Trump administration will impact about half of the wetlands, which typically relates to swamps and marshes, and one fifth of streams. In short, these waterways will no longer receive protection by the federal government of the United States, resulting in limited oversight.
Richard Hauer, professor emeritus of biology at the University of Montana, noted how the rolling back of protections ignores the basic science of how water is connected underground, and to the ecosystem in general. This ignorance can lead to devastating circumstances.
“One of the things that is so remarkable about wetlands is they are disproportionately important across big regional scales,” Hauer recently told NPR, noting how wetlands filter water, regulate temperature, control flooding and provide crucial habitat for various wildlife.
Of this, about half of threatened and endangered species depend on the wetlands.
“It literally is from microbes all the way to grizzly bears; it’s everything in between,” he adds.
The new rule was created as a joint effort by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Army Corps of Engineers, a federal agency under the Department of Defense. As the latter primarily serves to oversee dams, canals and flood protection, the partnership makes sense, especially as there’s been an increase in natural disasters due to global warming.
“Navigable Waters Protection Rule,” as it is officially known, rolls back important portions of a federal rule from 2015 which guaranteed protections under the 1972 Clean Water Act. This includes wetlands or streams that run underground. Further, landowners no longer need to get permits for construction from the EPA, which was the norm before the recent change.
According to The New York Times, the Trump administration has loosened (or flat out eliminated) nearly one hundred laws and rules regarding the environment, involving topics such as climate change, clean air and chemicals, in addition to coal mining and oil drilling.
“The clean water rule represented solid science and smart public policy. Where it has been enforced, it has protected important waterways and wetlands, providing certainty to all stakeholders,” Jon Devine, director of federal water policy at the Natural Resources Defense Council, told CNBC.
“The Trump administration’s wild-eyed attempts to reward polluters, however, knows no bounds, so it is repealing these important protections without regard for the law or sound science.”
And the rollback of these protections could have far-reaching impacts throughout the country.
Ean Thomas Tafoya, a clean water activist based in Colorado, notes how the new rules could harm the quality of the water in the Colorado River, which supplies water for seventeen states in America.
“We are a headwater state,” he told The New York Times at the start of this year. “This rollback will affect almost every single stream that flows into the Colorado River.”
Mr. Tafoya claims that upwards of ninety percent of the streams that supply the Colorado River run only after rainfall or snowmelt. However, many of those waterways will not qualify for federal protection. Chemical pesticides from dry stream beds could be swept into larger bodies of water, especially after the yearly snow begins to melt, he contends.
And he’s not alone. Those around the country have started to mobilize for their rights.
“This will be the biggest loss of clean water protection the country has ever seen,” argues Blan Holman of the Southern Environmental Law Center, where he serves as a lawyer.
“This puts drinking water for millions of Americans at risk of contamination from unregulated pollution. This is not just undoing the Obama rule. This is stripping away protections that were put in place in the ’70s and ’80s that Americans have relied on for their health.”
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