By Jon Devine, Natural Resources Defense Council
The Environmental Protection Agency implements the Clean Water Act, the Nation’s primary tool to prevent pollution of our waterways and to clean up ones that are too polluted. Consequently, those of us who swim, fish, drink water, or use products manufactured using water—in other words, every one of us—have a lot to lose if the Clean Water Act isn’t appropriately enforced.
Unfortunately, at the direction of President Trump and longtime EPA opponent/current EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, EPA hatched a scheme to roll back clean water safeguards and other environmental rules. Specifically, the agency has requested input on which of its existing regulatory protections impose “burdensome” requirements on entities that must comply with them.
The underlying assumption for this enterprise – that many federal rules harm the economy and lack appropriate justification—has no basis in the roughly 50-year history of modern environmental law. To the contrary, clean water and other environmental and public health rules deliver huge benefits to Americans. That’s what I told EPA officials when I got a whole two minutes to speak during a recent public “listening session”—my prepared remarks are pasted below.
It’s sad and maddening that the Trump administration needs to be reminded of this fact, but they do, because they seem hellbent on attacking public safeguards despite their benefits and despite the strong public support for environmental rules. Recent polling indicates that Americans overwhelmingly disapprove of how the president is handling environmental matters (61 percent disapprove; 29 percent approve) and, during the EPA “listening session,” the pro-public-protection participants vastly outnumbered those complaining about rules. Nevertheless, the deregulatory push continues.
Please consider making your own voice heard, and pushing back against this false narrative by defending the importance of clean water and other public protections. Please act now, as EPA will cut off comment on May 15. The NRDC Action Fund made participating easy by providing a quick method to submit your comments. Thank you!!
On behalf of NRDC’s more than two million members and supporters, please end this attack on public protections. Don’t sacrifice our water to a reckless and unfounded search for allegedly “burdensome” regulations without a meaningful, detailed investigation of the benefits that Americans get from rules.
Water’s value becomes clear when there’s a drought, a sewage spill, a boil water alert, or a closed beach. But that value is there every day, as we use water for drinking, irrigation, and industrial supply, to say nothing of swimming, fishing and boating.
Accordingly, the Clean Water Act directs EPA to develop federal regulations, in order “to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters.” Congress adopted this framework in 1972 to fix weak laws that allowed waterways to literally catch fire and others to become biologically dead.
EPA rules under the Act provide significant benefits. For instance, EPA’s discharge limits for 58 industries set a level playing field for tens of thousands of facilities, and prevent more than 700 billion pounds per year of toxic water pollution. Similarly, wetland protection regulations help reduce flood risks, benefitting people owning approximately $800-900 billion in property located in floodplains.
But the Act’s work isn’t done.
- Most water bodies assessed don’t meet one or more state-established standards designed to protect uses like swimming and fishing.
- Between 2004 and 2009, the rate of wetlands loss accelerated by 140 percent.
- Nitrogen and phosphorus cause serious harms across the country, by fueling massive dead zones and spurring outbreaks of toxic algae.
Without a basis to presume environmental protections are hurting the economy, the administration seems bound to undermine beneficial clean water rules and ignore these remaining challenges by hastily seeking complaints about existing safeguards. While polluting industries have deregulatory wish lists handy, citizens can’t meaningfully participate. EPA allowed only four-and-a-half weeks for public input on the value of all the agency safeguards adopted in its 46-year-plus history, and today’s session allows only a few of us to very briefly address agency staff.
That’s bad enough, but the administration couldn’t even wait for this sham process before rolling back the protections they most want to kill. Take the Clean Water Rule, which President Trump and Administrator Pruitt targeted to eliminate even before taking office. Days after Administrator Pruitt started at EPA, the administration initiated its scheme to undo the rule. That’s ironic in the present context, with the rule’s benefits estimated to be as much as $572 million/year and to exceed costs, while improving protections for the kinds of waters that feed drinking water supplies of 117 million Americans.
Americans strongly support protections for clean water and did not vote to make it easier to foul the nation’s waterways. End this assault now and focus the agency’s time and expertise on fixing the pressing pollution problems facing our country.