Yesterday, the Trump administration announced a dangerous new rule to narrowly redefine “waters of the United States” under the Clean Water Act (CWA).
The federal Clean Water Act is a crucial piece of legislation that protects clean drinking water for millions of Americans and prevents toxic dumping and dangerous contamination of our rivers, lakes, streams and coastal waters. Under this landmark legislation, all waterways are expected to meet standards for swimmable, fishable waters. The federal government’s move today to roll back its interpretation of Clean Water Act protections for a large number of wetlands and streams endangers public health and the future of our shared waters.
The proposed rule will eliminate protections for historically protected waterways across the country, including ephemeral streams; many interstate waters; many wetlands; and rivers, streams, lakes, and other waters that do not flow into “Traditional Navigable Waters,” which they define as large bodies of water like the Atlantic Ocean and Mississippi.
It also seeks to destroy more than 46 years of legal precedent underlying the legal basis for these protections by adopting narrow, industry-developed theories about the limited scope of federal authority to protect our nation’s waters. The agencies have developed some fact sheets summarizing the changes and their views.
“All waterways are connected,” said Upper Missouri Waterkeeper Executive Director Guy Alsentzer. “This move puts millions of people, countless miles of waterways, and key fisheries at risk from pollution, while eroding more than 40 years of protection for critical headwaters. The Environmental Protection Agency should be protecting the public, not bowing to the demands of corporations and special interests.”
Here are a couple quick facts to help illustrate what’s a stake, and how terrible the new rule would be for our waterways:
This is the most consequential attack on clean water since the passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972, when Richard Nixon was president.
The proposal could strip federal protections from an estimated 60 to 90 percent of U.S. waterways.
The proposal would virtually eliminate the Clean Water Act’s protections across the arid West, from West Texas to Southern California, including most of New Mexico, Arizona, and Nevada. and for much of eastern Montana.
The proposal would limit protections only to wetlands and streams that are “physically and meaningfully connected” to larger “traditional navigable” bodies of water.
Interstate waters, which are currently one of the three key categories of protected waters under the CWA, would no longer be separately protected.
The right of citizens to protect their waterways and communities from pollution under the Clean Water Act’s citizen suit provision will be lost for all waterways or wetlands that are eliminated from the WOTUS definition under this proposed rule.
The Clean Water Act cannot function if small streams and wetlands are not protected and thus allowed to be filled-in or used as toxic dumping sites. This irresponsible move by the federal government threatens Montana’s keystone fisheries, our outdoors economy, and drinking water for 117 million Americans, particularly harms those living in areas without adequate water treatment and communities that rely on groundwater or well water.
Upper Missouri Waterkeeper vigorously opposes this latest attempt to dismantle critical protections for our waterways. Waterkeeper will fight for all Montana waters, large and small, and will uphold the public’s right to clean, safe water.
EPA and the Corps will only allow 60 days for public comment, which will begin to run upon publication in the Federal Register. Please sign up to receive our action alerts if you would like to be in touch about opportunities to make your voice heard for the protection of our shared waters.