By Ellen Knickmeyer for Associated Press
The Trump Administration on Thursday ended federal protection for many of the nation’s millions of miles of streams, arroyos and wetlands, a sweeping environmental rollback that could leave the waterways more vulnerable to pollution from development, industry and farms.
The change, signed by heads of the Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, narrows the types of waterways that qualify for federal protection under the Clean Water Act.
President Donald Trump has targeted environmental and public health regulations that he says imposed unnecessary burdens on business. Speaking to farmers in Texas on Sunday, Trump repeated his charge that an Obama-era attempt in 2015 to more clearly define what water bodies qualify for federal pollution protection was “one of the most ridiculous regulations of all.”
Thursday’s changes to the clean water rule have long been sought by builders, developers, farmers and others. But environmental groups and public-health advocates say the rollback will allow businesses to dump pollutants into newly federally unprotected waterways and fill in some wetlands, threatening public water supplies downstream and harming wildlife and habitat.
EPA head Andrew Wheeler told reporters that states were still free to step in with state protections of newly vulnerable waterways if they chose.
Brett Hartl, a government affairs director with the Center for Biological Diversity conservation advocacy group, called the changes “a sickening gift to polluters.”
The Trump rule narrows the Obama administration’s 2015 definition of what’s a protected body of water and effectively removes safeguards for some waterways that had been put into place with the 1972 Clean Water Act.
The administration says the changes would allow farmers to plow their fields without fear of unintentionally straying over the banks of a federally protected dry creek, bog or ditch. But the government’s own figures show it is real estate developers and those in other nonfarm business sectors that take out the most permits for impinging on wetlands and waterways, and stand to reap the biggest regulatory and financial relief.
Environmental groups said the draft version of the rule released earlier would have lifted federal protections for roughly half of the nation’s wetlands and one-fifth of the millions of miles of waterways. The administration challenges that estimate and says it is not possible to come up with a solid figure for how much of the nation’s surface water will be affected.
One of the biggest changes applies to so-called ephemeral waters – creeks and rivers that run only after rainfalls or snow melt. Such streams provide a majority of the water for some dry Western states.
Read more at Associated Press.