The Chamber is muddying the waters of vital EPA protections

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The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has formally proposed to repeal the Obama administration’s clean water rule, which gives the federal government the authority to protect the headwaters of streams that are the ultimate source of drinking water for more than one in three Americans. Without this rule, these waters would otherwise be at risk of pollution and destruction.

Given its decades-long history of doing the dirty work on behalf of the fossil fuel industry as well as other polluting industries, it comes as no surprise that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is pushing hard for repeal of the clean water rule, also known as the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule. And given that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has made a habit of bending to industry wishes due to his corporate connections, it comes as even less of a surprise that the Chamber’s push to repeal WOTUS is being taken up by Pruitt.

{mosads}The Chamber’s effort to kill the clean water rule predates the Trump administration. The Chamber has fought against the rule since it was issued by the Obama administration in 2015. When industry sued to block the rule, the Chamber enlisted its litigation arm to write an amicus brief on behalf of the industry group plaintiffs. Once Trump took office, the Chamber lobbied an executive order to kill the rule. Trump issued such an order in February, deceptively titled “Restoring the Rule of Law, Federalism, and Economic Growth by Reviewing the ‘Waters of the United States’ Rule.”


Now that Pruitt has formally begun the repeal process, the Chamber noted that it looks forward to working with Pruitt throughout the rewriting process. Given the Chamber’s tremendous influence over the Trump administration, one should expect that Pruitt will be more than receptive to the Chamber’s industry-friendly ideas as to how the rule should be rewritten.

It is also worth noting that the House Appropriations Committee has released its draft fiscal year 2018 energy and water appropriations bill for subcommittee consideration. This bill is packed with poison pill policy riders that constitute a corporate donor wish list. One of these riders is an almost unprecedented provision that would allow the administration to bypass well-established rulemaking procedures under the Administrative Procedure Act, expediting the repeal process by depriving the public of its opportunity to provide input and dispensing with an evaluation of the significant costs of repealing the rule.

This lawless rider completely ignores the lengthy, deliberate, and inclusive process that led to the 2015 clean water rule and once again highlights the current administration’s hasty and haphazard actions when it comes to public protections. What’s more, it makes a mockery of the claim, in the title of the executive order directing federal agencies to review the clean water rule, that the Trump administration is “restoring the rule of law.” If discarding established legal procedures is now considered to be “restoring the rule of law” by this administration, then it is even more Orwellian than we may have previously thought.

Both the administration and the Chamber claim to want to help small businesses, but their shared desire to gut the clean water rule proves these claims to be hollow. If the Chamber truly were representing the interests of small businesses, it would take into consideration the economic impacts of rolling back the rule. Clean water is a crucial component to the outdoor economy. In 2011 alone, hunters spent $34 billion, anglers spent $42 billion, and wildlife watchers spent $55 billion.

Much like the outdoor sporting industry, craft brewers also depend on clean water sources for their livelihood, and several have spoken out against repeal of the rule. Repealing the clean water rule and attacking the decades-old Clean Water Act put our economy at risk. The Chamber cannot claim to support small businesses while at the same time lobbying to put the streams they rely on at risk of destruction.

The headline-grabbing Flint water crisis, and lead contamination broadly, aren’t the only environmental health crises crippling communities. A rollback of the clean water rule will result in increased pollution of the lakes and streams we rely on for drinking water, recreation, and brewing, and a green light for the widespread destruction of wetlands that help prevent dangerous flooding in low-lying regions.

Instead of repealing the common sense clean water rule, the administration and the Chamber should prioritize access to safe, clean drinking water over corporate greed.

Grace Aylmer is a campaign coordinator at the Chamber Watch Project of Public Citizen, an organization dedicated to ensuring all Americans are represented in government.

Daniel Dudis is director of the Chamber Watch Project at Public Citizen.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

Tags Chamber of Commerce Clean Water Rule Environment Environmental Protection Agency Executive Order Industry Regulation Scott Pruitt Trump administration Waters of the United States

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