Internal EPA document contradicts agency over existence of water rule data

An internal EPA document is contradicting agency officials who said Tuesday that there is no data on how many waterways will lose protections under the administration’s latest rule rollback.

The document, released through a Freedom of Information Act request to E&E News Tuesday, shows that officials in 2017 estimated that 13 percent of streams and 51 percent of wetlands across the U.S. would lose protections under EPA’s latest rollback, announced today.

When announcing the details of the proposal to reporters at EPA headquarters in Washington, D.C., agency officials said the data on how many waterways would lose environmental protections didn’t exist.

“We have not have — nobody has, in the history of the agency — a detailed mapping of all the wetlands in the country,” said Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler.

“The numbers that have been thrown around over the last 24 hours, 60 percent, 80 percent, are not accurate.”

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EPA's Office of Water chief Dave Ross explicitly told reporters the data didn’t exist, despite environmentalists’ estimations to the contrary.

"No one has that data,” he said.

“If you see percentages of water features that claim to be in and reductions, there really isn’t the data to support those statistics,”

An EPA spokesperson said officials ultimately decided the data discussed in the 2017 slideshow was not accurate enough to include in the final report.

“After a thorough review of the data and information available on the nation’s waters, including the National Hydrography Dataset (NHD), the agencies determined that the datasets are not robust enough to accurately or precisely depict federally regulated waters. So the statement that Assistant Administrator Ross’ made is accurate.”

The NHD is determined by the U.S. Geological Survey that maps streams and determines how often they flow.

The Trump administration on Tuesday proposed reduced federal protections for many small waterways such as streams and wetlands, opening them up to potential new use by developers, energy companies and others.

EPA’s proposal would redefine the “Waters of the United States," a legal term for which waterways are protected from harm and pollution by the federal government under the Clean Water Act.

The change is a major victory for developers, energy companies and other industries that emit water pollutants and use land. They had complained that under the 2015 rule created by the Obama administration large swaths of often dry land required permits for routine activities.