Taking apart the Clean Water Act is not a game
The Trump/Wheeler Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is dismantling critical parts of the Clean Water Act one by one. Cumulatively these are the most serious threat to our nation’s bedrock environmental law in its history. If even one of these administration proposals is finalized, the consequences would be dire. Taken together, the Clean Water Act as we know it could go away. Since the Trump administration is parceling out these assaults, it can be hard to see the full picture. So we wanted to take a step back and explain was is at stake for the rule of law, the Clean Water Act, and, most importantly, our health and the health of our water.
The Dirty Water Rule: Putting Streams and Wetlands at Risk: Replacing the 2015 “Clean Water Rule,” that clarified which bodies of water are protected by the Clean Water Act has been a priority for this administration since day one. The December 2018 proposed “Dirty Water Rule” ignores the latest science, is on shaky legal grounds, and puts over half our nation’s remaining wetlands and thousands of stream miles at risk of pollution or destruction. Learn more here.
The Water Polluter Loophole: Giving Polluters a Free Pass to Pollute: On April 15, EPA announced it will no longer require polluters to get a permit for pollution that flows through groundwater before entering a river, bay, or other surface water. A comment period on this “interpretive statement” is open through June 7. EPA is likely to do formal regulation to codify this change in longstanding practice regarding groundwater pollution that reaches surface water. Learn more here.
Coal Power Plant Pollution: Letting toxic power plants pollute our rivers and lakes: EPA is weakening the pollution limits for toxic water discharges from coal-fired power plants. This pollution is known to impact rivers, lakes and bays including drinking water sources. It includes contaminants known to impact water quality and drinking water safety, including metals like arsenic and cadmium as well as hexavalent chromium and nutrients. This water pollution from coal plants is in addition to the pollution caused by weak requirements for disposal of coal ash waste. The administration is also watering down these already in insufficient requirements. Learn more here.
Clean Water Act Section 401: Pushing Fossil Fuel Projects Pipelines on States: An April Presidential Executive Order seeks too limit state review of big fossil fuel development and other large projects. Section 410 of the Clean Water Act that gives states the ability to certify that big federal projects won't damage water quality. Because some states have used this section of the Clean Water Act to block pipelines and liquid natural gas (LNG) export terminals, the administration wants to limit the time states have to review proposals. This Executive Order focuses on NY and OR have used recently to block pipelines and LNG terminals, respectively. The White House ordered EPA to issue guidance within 60 days and to publish a proposed regulation within 120 days.
Oil and Gas Development: Allowing More Fracking and Drilling Waste in Our Water: A May 2019 EPA report on oil and gas wastewater, and industry lobbying activity suggestions that the administration may seek to weaken current Clean Water Act programs related to oil and gas wastewater. This could allow more wastewater from all kinds of oil and gas productionextraction into water bodies used for drinking water, fishing, recreation, and other uses. Learn more here.
Clean Water Act Section 404(c): Giving up the Chance to Stop the Most Devastating Projects: Often known as EPA's "veto authority," this section of the Clean Water Act empowers EPA to deny or revoke permits for certain projects that would normally be granted but for which EPA has determined there will be an adverse impact on water supplies, fish, wildlife or recreation. EPA has used this authority only about a dozen times. Before he left office, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt set in place a process for EPA to formally give up its own authority to stop extremely dangerous projects
Sewage Blending Rule (aka Dumping Sewage into Rivers): EPA is considering whether to loosen sewage treatment requirements when extreme weather events overload wastewater disposal systems. This could result in partially treated sewage being “blended” into treated wastewater and discharged directly into rivers, lakes, and bays.