On Thursday, the Environmental Protection Agency announced a disturbing rollback of Obama Era federal regulations that have helped to preserve the quality and safety of over half of our nation’s water sources, signaling the Trump administration’s commitment in protecting the interests of industry polluters over the health of American communities.
The decision has removed the protected status from critical wetlands and streams, many of which feed into larger bodies of water that are covered by the Clean Water Act. In announcing the decision at a press conference yesterday, the EPA’s Andrew Wheeler described the Obama Era protections as an “egregious power-grab” by the federal government, seeming more focused on the positive effect that the rollbacks will have on the growth of industries and farmers that the administration believe will benefit from the decision. Theoretically, state governments could erect their own clean water protections, but few states currently have the resources to do so. In any case, Wheeler looked forward to the final rule change that will happen later this year.
Betsy Southerland, who worked as a director in the EPA’s Office of Water, told NBC News that the rollback is largely going to benefit the oil, gas, and mining industries, as well as land developers — and not farmers, who are the individuals bearing much of the weight of clean water protections. Additionally, the removal of these protections will only serve to exacerbate climate injustice for communities on the frontlines of pollution and environmental devastation.
Most concerning to Southerland and other water experts is the effect that this will have on wetlands across the nation. “Wetlands are big flood control functions and filter pollutants out before they get to streams that we drink from,” Southerland explained. “All of that will be lost if we no longer have these protections, and once you lose them you can’t get them back.” Southerland retired from her position last year as an “early warning to the public about all that they were going to lose under this administration,” following Scott Pruitt’s contemptuous treatment of the department’s mission and staff.
Laura Rubin, the director of the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition, shared those concerns for individuals whose community water sources will no longer be safe, telling the New York Times, “With many of our cities and towns living with unsafe drinking water, now is not the time to cut back on clean water enforcement.”