Trump Administration Kicks Clean Water Protections Out the Door

The EPA and Army Corps finalized its repeal of the Clean Water Rule, jeopardizing the drinking water supplies of millions of Americans.

Wetlands near the Nanticoke Wildlife Management Area in Wicomico County, Maryland

Matt Rath/Chesapeake Bay Program/Flickr

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers officially repealed the Clean Water Rule today, undoing critical protections for streams, wetlands, and other smaller bodies of water at risk of pollution. The rollback makes it easier for oil drillers, industrial sites, developers, and other polluters to contaminate these waters.

“The Trump administration’s wild-eyed attempts to reward polluters knows no bounds, so it is repealing these important protections without regard for the law or sound science,” says Jon Devine, director of federal water policy at NRDC.

Passed in 2015, the Clean Water Rule, also known as Waters of the United States, clarifies which bodies of water are covered under the landmark Clean Water Act. It formalizes protections in less clear cases—say, for streams that only flow when it rains but are nonetheless essential to the health of larger rivers, lakes, and estuaries. It also protects wetlands that are not directly connected to large bodies of water; wetlands cover roughly 110 million acres in the continental United States, filtering pollution from contamination runoff and replenishing groundwater. They also play a key role in the ecosystem.

“The Clean Water Rule represented solid science and smart public policy,” Devine says. “Where it has been enforced, it has protected important waterways and wetlands, providing certainty to all stakeholders.” The Clean Water Rule is based on years of research—the EPA and Army Corps officials reviewed 1,200 scientific publications and confirmed that streams and wetlands are connected to downstream waters in important ways.

“This unsubstantiated action is illegal,” Devine says, “and will certainly be challenged in court.” 

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