Trump Finally Uses (Weaponizes) the Clean Water Act

There’s low. And then there’s rock bottom.

The Trump Administration’s EPA takeover, with its race to the bottom rollbacks of the environmental and public health protections that Americans have relied upon for decades, is low; so low that even some of the industries the Administration seeks to support are pushing back. But what the Trump Administration has been up to lately in California—weaponizing the Clean Water Act to serve a political vendetta…well, can it get any lower than that? 

Trump and his cronies at EPA are way off base in their politically-motivated efforts to confront California on its water quality problems. From one side of their collective mouths they proclaim an interest in protecting Californians from water pollution. From the other side, they gut our nation’s clean water laws by repealing protections for untold numbers of wetlands and streams across the country, as they have done repeatedly these last few years—and as they did recently when they repealed the Clean Water Rule

Perplexingly, Trump has blamed one of California’s most vulnerable populations, the homeless, particularly in Los Angeles and San Francisco, for the state’s water pollution problems. Homelessness is a very serious issue in these two cities and the state, but it is not the leading cause of its water pollution woes. In fact, other sources of pollution far eclipse what Trump points to as a concern. The letter the Administration recently issued to San Francisco admits this by omission; the central focus of the letter is San Francisco’s wastewater treatment system. It’s clear that Trump’s attempt to link the problem to the homeless population was sheerly to generate negative media for his least favorite state.

Agriculture is a major source of pollution from stormwater runoff in California and homeowners themselves contribute to the problem with their lawn pesticides, car drippings, and dog droppings. The City of Los Angeles diverted many of the storm drains in Skid Row to the sewer system, so that water flowing in those drains now receives treatment before being discharged to waterways. Moreover, much of Los Angeles’s trash problem is from illegal dumping by businesses that don’t want to pay for trash disposal. There should be no question that the City can and should improve its enforcement against this type of illegal dumping.

California can also do more. For years, the state has ignored water quality violations from stormwater pollution in the Los Angeles Region and elsewhere.  An NRDC report released this spring found more than 2,000 violations of the Clean Water Act had largely gone unenforced by the state over the past five years. The state and EPA have also been lax when it comes to addressing agricultural pollution—from pesticides, fertilizers, and animal waste—an enormous contributor to drinking water problems across California. This agricultural pollution also contributes to harmful algal blooms that are toxic to people, pets, and aquatic life.

We should welcome more enforcement of our clean water laws across the state and beyond. But we should not allow President Trump to target vulnerable populations like the homeless as part of political retribution against cities with whom he disagrees on policy matters. It doesn’t help solve our water quality problems and it certainly doesn’t help solve our homeless problem. As environmentalists, and human beings, we shouldn’t stand for it. 

Instead of weaponizing the Clean Water Act, President Trump and EPA should be using the Clean Water Act to help solve America’s water quality problems. That won’t happen by publicly misplacing the blame on those who bear little responsibility. In fact, Trump and his Administration are perhaps the biggest threat; if they were seriously concerned about our nation’s waters they would cease their endless attack on our environmental protections.