With a festive “Merry Christmas,” the EPA rolled back Obama-era protections on clean water that protected 117 million Americans.
In a move both announced and signed Tuesday, the EPA changed the definition of WOTUS (Waters of the United States) put in place by the Obama administration, which is how the agency defines what waterways fall under its jurisdiction and the jurisdiction of the Army Corps of Engineers.
Under the Obama EPA, the WOTUS policy expanded what waters were deemed important for conservation to include smaller bodies of water. But on Tuesday, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler reversed this entirely. This has dramatic potential ramifications for the safety of the nation’s tap water.
“Even a child understands that small streams flow into large streams and lakes – which provide drinking water for so many Americans,” said Environmental Working Group senior vice-president Craig Cox. “By removing safeguards and allowing industry to dump pollutants into these water sources, Trump’s EPA is ensuring more contamination challenges for utilities and dirtier water for their customers.”
Unreal Sen Roberts (R-KS) slams entirety of EPA… from inside EPA. In speech peppered with jabs, from being "nervous" inside the EPA because it might control "my emissions," calling it "a four letter word" that is now officially, he calls: "Environmental Farm Protection Agency"
— Rebecca Leber (@rebleber) December 11, 2018
The Trump Administration has been attempting to dismantle WOTUS for some time. President Trump has called the Clean Water Act, which created WOTUS, a “horrible, horrible rule” and attempted to repeal it by executive order. The attempted rollback had to go through a lengthy process of agency rulemaking, and was eventually blocked by courts.
But the repeal of the Clean Water Act was a major priority of Trump’s campaign, so the fight to dismantle clean water protections continued resulting in the policy announced and signed Tuesday.
“This proposal is reckless,” said Jim Devine of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Given the problems facing our lakes, streams and wetlands from the beaches of Florida to the drinking water of Toledo, now is the time to strengthen protections for our waterways, not weaken them.”
Now signed, the proposal enters a 60-day public comment period, and is likely to face litigation as the last attempt to dismantle the Clean Water Act did. It is far from becoming law, but it is on its way.
Closing his own remarks at the signing ceremony, embattled Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke — who himself engaged in massive anti-conservation regulatory reform — wished attendees a Merry Christmas.
Which just begs the contextualization of today’s policy decision as a Christmas present to both a president who outwardly hates the Clean Water Act, and industries who look forward to the increased freedoms from diminished protections.
Zinke once quipped that he should be investigated for saying Merry Christmas.
Katelyn Kivel is a contributing editor and senior legal reporter for Grit Post in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Follow her on Twitter @KatelynKivel.