Pollution: Rolling back clean-water rules
The Trump administration has “revealed its grand plan for turbocharging economic growth,” said Catherine Rampell in The Washington Post. “Make drinking water dirty again.” Motivated by the mistaken belief that pro-environment policies must be bad for business, it has scrapped an Obama administration rule that prohibited the dumping of toxic chemicals, pesticides, and chemical fertilizers into the smaller lakes, streams, and wetlands not specifically protected by the 1972 Clean Water Act. Former EPA officials say the repeal will mostly benefit oil and mining companies and developers, who can now fill in wetlands or pollute without a federal permit. The rule change also reverts America “to water-pollution standards from 1986—a year from Trump’s favorite decade,” although “not exactly a high-water mark, so to speak, for environmental protections.”
“Don’t buy the hype,” said the New York Post in an editorial. “Team Trump’s move wasn’t a blow against clean water but a win for basic justice.” By adding terms like “adjacent waters” and “tributaries,” to the Clean Water Act’s coverage, the Obama administration basically expanded federal oversight to “virtually anything that gets wet.” This includes “vast amounts of dry land” that turn into “shallow wetlands” after a good, hard rain. This overreach has “created massive uncertainty” for farmers, ranchers, and home builders who had to worry that “the presence of a pond” would result in huge fines from the Environmental Protection Agency. “All those worries are now lifted.”
The 2015 rule was an indispensable safeguard for the 1 in 3 Americans who rely on streams and surface water for their drinking water, said Ula Chrobak in PopularScience.com. And it’s not as if polluting smaller streams and wetlands won’t harm the larger waterways as well. In 2015, the EPA cited 1,200-plus studies to conclude that the health of smaller streams and wetlands is vital to large, downstream rivers too. “In the Mississippi basin, for example, the pollutants from numerous farms that trickle into small streams and wetlands eventually flow into the river and then into the Gulf of Mexico.” But this is a point that has eluded President Trump, said George Ochenski in Missoulian.com. All he knows is that when he turns on the faucets in Trump Tower, the water flows up 58 floors to his gilded penthouse. But for the rest of us, “water does run downhill—and all of us live downstream” from something.