Pruitt Moves to End Protections from Waste Dumping

WASHINGTON – In his latest attempt to save his job, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt announced efforts today to limit EPA’s ability to stop highly destructive activities such as mountaintop-removal coal mining from destroying streams, estuaries or other rich water bodies. 

The following is a statement by Jon Devine, director of Federal Water Policy at the Natural Resources Defense Council:

“Scott Pruitt appears so desperate to appease his last, few supporters that he has now resorted to dramatic announcements for actions that would typically be accomplished by the EPA administrator meeting with his staff.

“This is a reckless proposal that ignores the plain text of the Clean Water Act. If enacted, this would hamstring EPA’s ability to safeguard our streams and fisheries from the dumping of many tons of toxic waste. We’ll stand up to this senseless attack on our fresh waters and fisheries.”

The following is a statement by Taryn Kiekow Heimer, deputy director of the Marine Mammal Protection Project at NRDC:

“This is a blatant attempt to revive the failing Pebble Mine project in Alaska. He is handing a gift to the mining industry by abdicating his duty to protect the salmon-rich waters of Bristol Bay from a dangerous copper and gold mine -- and trying to prevent any future administration from doing so either.”


Under the Clean Water Act, the Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for issuing permits for discharges of dredged and fill material. EPA, under section 404(c) can limit such discharges “whenever” it determines they would pose various harms. EPA’s authority has been confirmed in Federal court -- EPA may act any time: before a company applies for a permit, while the Army Corps considers the application, or after the Corps issues a permit. 

Compared with the hundreds of thousands of permits the Army Corps has granted over the last 46 years, EPA has only ever exercised its “veto” authority under the Clean Water Act 13 times.

This planned rule is specifically relevant to the Pebble Mine, proposed at the headwaters of the legendary salmon runs in Bristol Bay, Alaska. The Obama administration proposed to restrict its ability to dump mining waste into the watershed. Pruitt initially moved to rescind that action, a move that enabled Pebble Mine to attract a new investor. Under massive public pressure, Pruitt reversed course and upheld those proposed restrictions, highlighting “serious concerns” about the likely “risk to abundant natural resources,” from mining in Bristol Bay. 

First Quantum Minerals – Pebble’s fourth major investor - recently pulled out of the disastrous project. So, Pebble now needs a new investor to proceed with the project.  

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The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 3 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, and Beijing. Visit us at and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.​




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