The recent news that the Trump Administration has rolled back many of the foundational aspects of the Clean Water Act has sent shockwaves throughout the environmental advocacy community as well as the general public.
Before Congress passed the Clean Water Act in 1972, many of America’s waterways were contaminated with pollutants well beyond safe levels. They were also over-fished and filled with trash. Whether the root cause was the Industrial Revolution, lax municipal rules, or simple ignorance, by the mid-1900s, citizens in large and small communities alike had trouble accessing clean water for drinking, bathing, and cooking.
The most memorable event prior to the Clean Water Act was in 1969, when contaminants clogging Ohio's Cuyahoga River literally caught fire. This infamous disaster was an example of what can happen when industrial operators are under no legal obligation to conduct environmentally-responsible operations. Following the Cuyahoga River disaster, concerned citizens urged Congress to address water pollution in the U.S. The result was the 1972 Clean Water Act.
Who wins when the Trump Administration rolled back the Clean Water Act ??
Mining, agriculture, construction, and oil and gas industries were rewarded with a big win when the Trump Administration announced its Clean Water Act rollback. The rollback eliminates permit requirements, allows these industries to discharge more pollution into waterways and wetlands, and removes fines for oil spills into protected waterways.
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Not surprisingly, the Trump administration has also lied about the Clean Water Act rollback - saying it was primarily aimed at the 2015 Obama-era Clean Water Rule. In reality, the rollback reaches back much further, cutting regulations to the pre-1972 era when there was extreme water pollution and lack of environmental oversight in the USA.
Alongside the Clean Water Act rollback, the Trump administration introduced its falsely named Navigable Waters Protection rule. Biologists and even members of the EPA have decried the rule, noting that not only does it not provide “protection” for navigable waters, but it may also actually remove protection from half of America’s wetlands and almost 20 percent of its streams.
Who Loses With The Rollback ??
We all do. Our water gets polluted. Our communities and families get poisoned.
The Timing of the Clean Water Rollback Could Be Disastrous
In 2017, the EPA released data indicating that nearly half of the nation’s rivers and streams and a full third of its wetlands are classified as being in “poor biological condition.” Coupled with the fact that millions of Americans are still routinely exposed to unsafe chemicals flowing through municipal water systems, environmental scientists have expressed serious concern about the timing of the rollback.
In a recent press release, Brett Hartle, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity, responded unequivocally to news of the rollback. “This sickening gift to polluters will allow wetlands, streams, and rivers across a vast stretch of America to be obliterated with pollution,” he said. “People and wildlife need clean water to thrive. Destroying half of our nation’s streams and wetlands will be one of Trump’s ugliest legacies.”
The group plans to sue the administration in the coming months.
What are the benefits of the Clean Water Act's protections ??
The Clean Water Act established a long list of regulations and procedures aimed at cleaning up and protecting waterways, especially those at higher risk of industrial contamination.
Some of the key features of the Clean Water Act include:
In 2015, the Obama administration further strengthened the Clean Water Act, when it introduced and passed the supplemental Clean Water Rule. This Clean Water Rule clarified language in the 1972 Clean Water Act and added provisions to protect what it named “regional water treasures,” which are specific watersheds that impact downstream water health.
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