President Donald Trump’s administration officially repealed Obama’s Clean Water Rule on Tuesday just as his pick to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, was promising the Senate Appropriations Committee that he would refocus his agency’s efforts on its core responsibilities, such as protecting America’s clean air and waterways.
In a statement issued to the press, however, Pruitt made his true concerns and intentions clear: “We are taking significant action to return power to the states and provide regulatory certainty to our nation’s farmers and businesses.” In other words, the Trump administration, with the help of the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers, is dismantling yet another piece of the Obama administration’s environmental legacy—unwinding environmental regulations put in place to prevent pollution of America’s rivers, lakes and streams simply by redefining what constitute “navigable waters.”
Pruitt called the 42-page joint proposal “the first step in the two-step process to redefine ‘waters of the U.S.’”
“Under the Clean Water Act, the federal government has the ability to regulate pollution that flows into navigable waters, but courts and legislative bodies have struggled to define the term for decades,” notes Geiling.
Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-VT), vice chair of the Senate’s Appropriations Committee, was having none of it, bluntly calling the Trump administration’s budget proposal being peddled by Pruitt “really the worst I’ve seen.” Leahy also accused the administration of “tearing down the legacy of the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act,” against the best interests of America’s children and grandchildren.
Obama’s Clear Water Rule protected the drinking water of 1 in 3 Americans.
Finalized in 2015, Obama’s Clean Water Rule, or Waters of the United States Rule, extended the federal government’s jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act, thereby providing federal protection to an additional two million miles of streams and 20 million acres of wetlands around the country—waterways that provide many Americans with clean drinking water. The rule, however, was widely criticized by industry’s big polluters — fossil fuel companies, manufacturers, and agribusiness — and Republicans in Congress, who accused the Obama administration of overreach.
The Trump administration would simultaneously like to cut the EPA’s funding by $2.4 billion annually and dramatically reduce or eliminate a variety of national and regional programs along the way.
“It goes without saying that the Trump administration doesn’t care about the environment, public health, or its duty to protect our most precious natural resources — and that is why it’s up to us, the American people, to hold them accountable,” said Michael Brune, executive director of Sierra Club, in a statement.
According to The Washington Post, the Trump administration is proposing cutting grants that support state and local “efforts to address everything from pesticide exposure to air and water quality” in half and slashing funding for Superfund cleanups by 30 percent in addition to reducing the agency’s workforce by 3200 employees, or 25 percent.
“Dozens of other programs would be zeroed out entirely, including funding for radon detection, lead-risk reduction, environmental justice and projects along the U.S.-Mexico border,” says The Post.
The agency, not surprisingly, would also have fewer funds for prosecuting environmental crimes or researching climate change and other issues.
Congress still has the ultimate say on funding but that may not stop Pruitt from shedding nearly 1,200 employees by the end of the summer through a combined buyout process and hiring freeze.
– Danielle Bizzarro