The Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers proposed rules that would scale back the scope of, and weaken, the Clean Water Act, a move that represents the biggest rollback of clean-water protections in five decades.
Water flows downhill — that’s gravity.
Just as the Trump administration denies the science of climate change, its most recent move to gut environmental protections relies on ignoring the basic fact of gravity. For oysters and salmon, fishermen and farmers, this move is a dangerous one for the Pacific Northwest.
The one piece of good news is that there is still time to stop this deluded proposal from going into effect.
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Here’s what is going on: Earlier this month, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers proposed rules that would scale back the scope of, and weaken, the Clean Water Act, a move that represents the biggest rollback of clean-water protections in five decades.
Trump’s proposal would exempt many smaller streams and wetlands from protection under the pollution control programs of the act, passed in 1972. If adopted, it would mean that oil storage facilities might be exempt from the requirement to develop plans to prevent and respond to spills; strip-mall developers could bulldoze streams and fill in wetlands or ponds without offsetting the damage; and industries could dump toxins into these smaller streams and wetlands without any oversight. Sadly, the list of examples goes on and on.
By disabling the protections that our waterways have had for decades, the proposal would allow more contamination of streams and underground aquifers. It would also fast-track the destruction of wetlands that help prevent flooding. And all of this would mean more pollution in the water bodies we all treasure and rely upon.
The sad truth is that we’ve been here before. Lake Washington was once known as “Lake Stinko,” as it was fouled with 20 million gallons of wastewater pumped into it each day, prompting algae outbreaks and then foul algae die-offs. We acted 50 years ago to cut our pollution and restore the health of the lake, turning it into an urban refuge for wildlife, boaters and swimmers.
What we learned then remains true today: small differences matter.
The detergent used in any one household isn’t the problem, but the phosphorous from detergents used in each of our homes can overwhelm a water body. The same is true with protections for wetlands or smaller streams that flow when it rains. An individual wetland may not seem that important, but together our wetlands are crucial filters of pollution and protections against flooding and storms. One small polluted stream may not seem to matter, but together those smaller streams flow into larger streams which flow into our nation’s most majestic rivers and lakes.
This is a basic concept; it’s also one that has deep scientific research behind it.
Sadly, ignoring science is something all-too-common with the Trump administration. In fact, these clean-water protections are even more necessary today, as climate change makes our weather more unpredictable and dangerous.
“Wetlands provide critical buffers against the harms of climate change by storing water and recharging groundwater that reduces flooding and supports base flows to streams,” the Washington state Department of Ecology said last year in a letter to the EPA when it floated this rollback plan.
Gutting these clean-water protections will be a bad investment, too, the state argued: “Maintaining natural infrastructure helps reduce costs in addressing problems such as severe weather events and changes in water presence and timing due to climate change.”
It might be too much to expect that words matter, but time and time again Trump has promised to provide “crystal clean water.” Delivering on that pledge would be welcomed by families nationwide who are worried about toxic algae outbreaks or the safety of the drinking water coming out of their taps.
There are sure to be some polluters and developers quietly smiling about EPA’s underhanded maneuver. For the rest of us, however, the choice is clear, and Americans have supported these protections before. If we value salmon or swimming, brewing or boating, fishing or a refreshing glass of ice water, we need to protect our treasured water bodies, whether large or small.
Thankfully, there’s still a chance for each of us to weigh-in and tell the administration to stop this dangerous rollback and implement the Clean Water Act as it was intended. Urge Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler to drop this reckless plan. Just as with water, every small input can lead to profound results.