Scott Pruitt has spent much of his short tenure as head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) working at a "dizzying" speed to dismantle Obama-era regulations that restrain major polluters. His most recent target: a rule designed to protect the drinking water of millions of Americans.
"The Clean Water Act makes it plain that science should lead policy, not the other way around, and Pruitt's actions this week shows that he doesn't care about either."
—Dalal Aboulhosn, Sierra Club
The Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule—also called the Clean Water Rule—was put forth by the Obama administration in 2015 as part of an effort to clearly define which bodies of water are protected by the 1972 Clean Water Act.
As Politico noted shortly after the regulation was announced, "powerhouse industries like agriculture, oil, and home-building" mounted a "fierce counterattack." This backlash yielded some success: the WOTUS rule was never implemented in its entirety, as multiple states sued and ultimately a federal appeals court stayed the rule, pending litigation.
But with Pruitt—who as Oklahoma Attorney General sued the EPA over the WOTUS rule—in charge, the oil and gas industry appears to be on the verge of a more complete victory.
As Greenwire's Ariel Wittenberg reported on Friday, the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers has released a report in which they "disput[ed] their own economic analysis" of the WOTUS rule. Their new analysis, Wittenberg notes, "maintains the previously calculated costs of implementing the rule but reduces the regulation's benefits by 85 to 90 percent."
"The Trump administration's economic analysis echoes criticisms lobbed against [the] EPA and the Army Corps three years ago by the Waters Advocacy Coalition, an organization of more than 60 industry groups that seeks to limit federal water regulations," Wittenberg observes.
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The EPA recently announced that it would move to completely rescind the WOTUS rule, and the agency has said it will give the public 30 days to offer input on the planned repeal.
Environmentalists have reacted with alarm, arguing that 30 days is nowhere near sufficient. In a letter to the EPA on Thursday, 18 environmental groups called on Pruitt to "allow for no fewer than six months to comment."
"Your planned 30-day comment period disregards the more than one million people who participated in the development of [the WOTUS] rule and is a grossly inadequate amount of time for stakeholders to meaningfully engage in this rulemaking process," the groups wrote.
In a statement on Friday, Sierra Club's Deputy Legislative Director for Land and Water Dalal Aboulhosn argued that the EPA's new analysis amounts to Pruitt "cooking the books to try and discredit the clear economic and public health benefits of the Clean Water Rule" and to assist "[h]is polluter friends."
"The American people count on the EPA to keep our drinking water safe, and this disregard for independent science is a disservice to all our families," Aboulhosn concludes. "The Clean Water Act makes it plain that science should lead policy, not the other way around, and Pruitt's actions this week shows that he doesn't care about either."