President Twists Truth About the Clean Water Rule

President Trump may have set some kind of record on Tuesday making eight false statements about a single rule in the span of just a few minutes.

While signing an executive order he said was aimed at “the elimination” of the Clean Water Rule—which protects wetlands and streams that feed drinking water sources for 117 million Americans—Trump made one assertion after another that is demonstrably false.

Here’s the list:

False Claim #1 – Trump said the rule “has truly run amok” and is hurting farmers and ranchers. “It’s prohibiting them from being allowed to do what they’re supposed to be doing. It’s been a disaster.”

Fact: The rule is not being implemented. It’s under judicial review and has been stayed by the court while it considers the case.

False Claim #2 – Trump said the rule seeks to regulate “nearly every puddle.”

Fact: The rule explicitly excludes “puddles” from oversight.

False Claim #3 –Trump said the rule seeks to regulate “every ditch.”

Fact: The rule expressly excludes from regulation numerous man-made waters; this includes a variety of ditches on farms, as well as those alongside roadways, airports or railroads.

False Claim #4 – Trump said the rule represents “a massive power grab.”

Fact: The Clean Water Act mandates protection of the nation’s important waters, and protecting those waters requires protecting the wetlands and streams that flow into those waters. It also does not cover any kinds of waters the law historically excluded.

False Claim #5 – Trump said “The EPA’s regulators were putting people out of jobs by the hundreds of thousands.”

Fact: There’s no evidence of jobs being affected by a rule that isn't being implemented. There is also zero support for the claim that the rule would have the kinds of impacts described.

False Claim #6 – Trump said the rule treats “small farmers and small businesses as if they were a major industrial polluter.”

Fact: The rule maintains exemptions for normal farming operations and agricultural runoff and it treats small businesses no different from any other group, just like Clean Water Act itself does.

False Claim #7 – Trump said “If you want to build a new home, for example, you have to worry about getting hit with a huge fine if you fill in as much as a puddle, just a puddle on your lot.”

Fact: Again, the rule explicitly excludes “puddles” from oversight.

False Claim #8 – Trump cited a case in which the EPA fined a Wyoming rancher “for digging a small watering hole for his cattle.”

Fact: This case had nothing to do with the Clean Water Rule, as it began even before the rule was proposed. The rancher was found to have violated the decades-old Clean Water Act, because he filled in 40 feet of a stream called Six Mile Creek with “sand, gravel, clay and concrete blocks” to create a dam, according to the EPA, and did so without the required permit. The dam flooded a stretch of creek the length of two and a half football fields. Congress has specifically demanded that such activity requires a permit, to protect the public from individuals damning streams for personal use and causing untold consequences for other users both upstream and downstream of the dam. The EPA and the landowner settled this case in 2016 and the landowner agreed to take action to mitigate the dam’s impacts.

About the Authors

Jon Devine

Senior Attorney, Water program

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