Remaining vigilant against EPA's clean water rollbacks

Remaining vigilant against EPA's clean water rollbacks
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With the start of summer, America’s kids will be swimming, fishing and enjoying the great outdoors. An important federal rule ensures the safety of those local lakes that kids swim in and the nearby streams their drinking water comes from: the Clean Water Rule. 

Signed in 2015, the Clean Water Rule clarified that the Clean Water Act protects small streams and wetlands, vital resources that had been vulnerable to pollution because of two confusing Supreme Court decisions. After an extensive public outreach effort by the U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) — including a 200-day public comment period and more than 1 million comments — It was clear the rule had substantial public input and support.

But like many other scientifically-based and popular programs, the Clean Water Rule has come under attack by the Trump administration. Since the beginning of his presidency, Trump has instructed his cabinet deputies to weaken, defund or otherwise gut numerous crucial environmental safeguards — all in service to industry polluters and special interests — and sadly, clean water protections were at the top of the list.

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In December, EPA Administrator Andrew WheelerAndrew WheelerOvernight Energy: Senators push back on EPA's new FOIA rule | Agency digs in on rule change | Watchdog expands ethics probe of former EPA air chief Bipartisan senators fight 'political considerations' in EPA's new FOIA rule Overnight Energy: Historic heat wave is double whammy for climate change | Trump sees 'bigger problems' than plastic straws | House Science chair threatens EPA over 'stonewalled' answers MORE — a former coal lobbyist — proposed a radical reinterpretation of the Clean Water Act that severely limits protections for crucial streams and wetlands. Bipartisan stakeholders — including public health advocates, sporting groups, businesses, environmental justice activists and laborers — believe this “Dirty Water Rule” is one of the biggest attacks on the Clean Water Act in its history.

Quite simply, Trump’s plan would slash bedrock protections for the water that millions of Americans use and drink. Trump has justified his unprecedented action by claiming the original Clean Water Rule was a partisan “power grab.” But this ignores the nearly 50 years of bipartisan support for the Clean Water Act. A majority of Congressional Republicans supported the original Act, and in the years since, both parties have made clean water a policy priority because everyone should agree that our kids should not drink tainted water. Furthermore, the federal government is the only entity that has the ability to effectively protect water resources that cross through multiple states and municipalities.

Industry groups and corporate polluters, however, took issue with requirements to seek permits to pollute our nation’s waters. And because this administration would seemingly rather listen to the concerns of polluters over the American people, they happily obliged to fight for industry profits at the expense of keeping our water clean.

Even worse, the administration has been frustratingly secretive in their proposed rule. Limiting the public comment period to a paltry 60 days, EPA held just one public hearing and did little to solicit opinions on a rule that would directly impact millions of Americans.

Despite this attempt to exclude the public, opponents of the rule delivered more than half a million comments to the EPA. The Trump administration can try to hide preference for industrial polluters over families, but the American people were watching and made their voices heard.

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Not too long ago, the idea that every American has clean water to drink would not have been controversial. Now, the Trump administration, and allies in Congress, are challenging that basic right to make it easier to pollute vital water resources. Water doesn’t stop flowing once it reaches a state line, and pollution doesn’t magically disappear once it reaches federally protected sources. The only way to guarantee clean water for all is a strong federal standard that places the interests of the public above the profits of a few polluters.

This summer, our kids will spend their time outdoors and cool off with a refreshing glass of water. If Trump’s rollback of the Clean Water Rule is enacted, the water that sustains our communities could become unsafe. Congress must reject this administration’s assault on America’s clean water and work together to protect water for all people. We must stay vigilant against attempts to weaken clean water safeguards that have protected our children, outdoors, and wildlife for decades.

Bob Wendelgass is president and CEO of Clean Water Action and Clean Water Fund.