Scientists and environmentalists are condemning the Trump administration for waging war on regulations that aim to preserve U.S. water resources.
"The Republican Party is moving rapidly to become the party of dirty water."
—Peter Gleick, U.S. National Academy of Science
"Candidate and now President Donald Trump claimed he'd work to promote clean water. This claim has proven to be hollow," Peter Gleick, a member of the U.S. National Academy of Science and president-emeritus of Pacific Institute, wrote in an op-ed published by the Guardian on Monday.
Gleick characterized the administration's actions as "an assault on America's water resources."
"Since taking office, the president, administration officials, and the Republican-led Congress have moved aggressively to roll back decades of water-quality protections put in place by previous Republican and Democratic administrations," Gleick wrote, outlining Republican efforts to remove various provisions, including the Waters of the United States rule (WOTUS), also called the Clean Water Rule, which intends to protect the drinking water of millions of Americans.
"These moves benefit industrial polluters rather than local communities, hinder progress toward cleaning up contaminated water and deteriorating ecosystems, and worsen public health risks," he wrote, calling on more scientists and members of the public to speak out against the administration's efforts to remove clean water regulations.
"We've come a long way from the era of unregulated dumping of chemicals in our streams, burning rivers, and dying ecosystems," Gleick added. "But the Republican Party is moving rapidly to become the party of dirty water."
Following a February executive order in which the president advised the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to reconsider WOTUS—an order that Trump said was "paving the way for the elimination of this very destructive and horrible rule"—EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt told Congress in June that the administration would move to rescind the rule.
Pruitt has spent his time at the EPA attempting to roll back environmental regulations, reportedly catering to polluters' interests, promoting skepticism about climate science, and, according to a New York Times report published Friday, "taking extraordinary measures to conceal his actions."
More than 20 current and former EPA employees told the Times that Pruitt—who "is accompanied, even at EPA headquarters, by armed guards, the first head of the agency to ever request round-the-clock security—promotes a culture of secrecy.
EPA sources pointed to Pruitt's actions regarding WOTUS as an example of him "stealthily" promoting the administration's deregulation efforts:
EPA employees say that in mid-June, as Mr. Pruitt prepared a proposal to reverse the rule, they were told by his deputies to produce a new analysis of the rule—one that stripped away the half-billion-dollar economic benefits associated with protecting wetlands.
"On June 13, my economists were verbally told to produce a new study that changed the wetlands benefit," said Elizabeth Southerland, who retired last month from a 30-year career at the EPA, most recently as a senior official in the agency's water office.
"On June 16, they did what they were told," Ms. Southerland said. "They produced a new cost-benefit analysis that showed no quantifiable benefit to preserving wetlands."
Scientists and environmentalists have vocally condemned the administration's attempts to revoke WOTUS, which "requires oil companies to develop oil spill prevention and response plans, demands that states identify and develop plans to clean up protected waters that don't meet standards, and bans companies from dumping waste into protected waters, among other provisions," as Common Dreams previously reported.
"We are not surprised that Scott Pruitt is cooking the books to try and discredit the clear economic and public health benefits of the Clean Water Rule," the Sierra Club said in a statement.
Pruitt has a history of suing the agency he now leads, as the Washington Post noted in June. As Oklahoma attorney general, Pruitt sued EPA over the clean water regulation, "saying it 'usurps' state authority, 'unlawfully broadens' the definition of waters of the United States and imposes 'numerous and costly obligations' on landowners."
"The rule updated the federal Clean Water Act to define what waterways—including streams, rivers and other bodies—can be regulated by the federal government, stirring anger by the agriculture and energy industries, which said it gave regulators too much authority," Reuters reported. WOTUS clarified that the EPA and the USACE have federal authority to protect streams and wetlands under the Clean Water Act.
"By tossing out years of scientific study and public input, Scott Pruitt and the Trump administration are muddying the very waters the Clean Water Rule sought to clarify."
—Jo Ellen Darcy, Clean Water Rule co-author
"It provides a critical tool for tackling persistent pollution problems from pesticides, fertilizers, and industrial chemicals in water that previously lacked regulations," Gleick wrote.
The rule has been placed on hold by federal courts since 2015, even though it relied on more than 1,200 peer-reviewed studies, involved more than 400 public hearings, and garnered more than a million public comments.
"By tossing out years of scientific study and public input, Scott Pruitt and the Trump administration are muddying the very waters the Clean Water Rule sought to clarify," Jo Ellen Darcy, who co-authored the Obama-era rule and now sits on the board of the advocacy group American Rivers, told the Post.