Continuing its march toward elimination of key Clean Water Act protections, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today issued a formal notice of withdrawal for the Obama administration’s rule defining which waters can be protected against pollution and destruction under federal law.
This is the first step in EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s plan to eliminate essential Clean Water Act protections for waterways across the country that have been in place since the 1970s. Within the next few months, Pruitt is expected to take the more dangerous second step – adopting a narrow definition of “waters of the United States” (WOTUS) long sought by industry that will allow uncontrolled pollution and destruction of our nation’s rivers, streams, lakes, and wetlands.
The decision to withdraw and replace the definition that protects our nation’s waterways – a move advocated by industry groups like the American Farm Bureau Federation and the American Petroleum Institute – was made soon after Pruitt became Administrator and without consultation with the public, the states or the conservation community. In fact, Pruitt attended the Farm Bureau Advocacy Conference on the same day he signed the rule withdraw and replace notice to announce to his allies that “relief is on the way.” It has been widely reported that, after becoming Administrator, Pruitt had multiple meetings with senior executives in the automotive, coal, oil and gas, and utility industries, including attending “a March 22 meeting of the executive council of the American Petroleum Institute at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., with 45 oil and gas CEOs.”
By contrast, despite Pruitt’s purported goal of “restoring states’ important role in the regulation of water,” the states were briefed on EPA’s plan on April 19th after Pruitt had already determined to proceed with the withdrawal and replacement of the existing definition, and an official request for written comment was provided to the states roughly 40 days prior to a June 19th deadline.
“This action is not about restoring the state’s role in the protection of water – the states are the primary entities that implement the Clean Water Act. This is EPA Administrator Pruitt’s first step in implementing a long-term industry strategy to eliminate federal and state authority to protect waterways against industrial pollution,” said Guy Alsentzer, Executive Director of Upper Missouri Waterkeeper.
Any lessening of protections afforded headwaters and hydrologically-connected groundwater threatens Montana’s clean water. As a semi-arid state currently in a drought, the majority of streams and creeks in Montana’s mountains and valleys only flow intermittently during late spring and summer, after snowmelt. A recent spatial analysis showed that in Western Montana, 59% of stream miles are in headwater streams. Similarly, most of Western Montana’s major rivers are hydrologically-connected to groundwater. Even though science has proven that protecting these upstream reaches is essential to the health of Montana’s rivers and the communities they support, it appears Pruitt’s EPA rule may soon propose decreased protections for these waters.
“Communities across the West are already experiencing degraded water quality and drinking water due to expansive drought and climate change. It makes zero sense for EPA to allow more degradation of our waters by limiting the scope of protections when science shows all connected waters, no matter how small, impact our hydrological systems,” explained Alsentzer.
Upper Missouri Waterkeeper is committed to ensuring that the Clean Water Act continues to protect Montana’s rivers, streams, lakes, and wetlands, and all those that depend on clean water. We will fight every attempt to weaken this vital environmental protection.