The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release
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Trump Guts Protections for Wetlands, Endangered Species


In his latest move to weaken environmental protections nationwide, President Trump signed a new executive order today that will make it easier to destroy, pave over and pollute thousands of wetlands across the United States, especially in the arid, interior western states. Wetlands are among the most important ecosystems in the country, providing clean fresh water, flood control and essential habitat for birds, fish and other wildlife, including endangered species.

"Trump just put millions of acres of wetlands on the chopping block, and our wildlife and waters will suffer," said Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity. "This order is a gift to Trump's friends who will pollute and destroy some of the last remaining wetlands in the country. It's deeply troubling -- but not surprising -- to see Trump move so quickly to gut wetlands protections."

Today's order requires the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to begin the legal process to rescind the Obama "Clean Water Rule" and replace it with a new rule that would only protect wetlands with nearly permanent connections to downstream waters. Many wetlands would not be protected under this restrictive approach, including those that are home to dozens of endangered species.

The order requires the two agencies to adopt a narrow interpretation of the Clean Water Act advanced by Justice Scalia in the 2006 Supreme Court Rapanos v. United States case. Under Scalia's view, only wetlands that have a relatively permanent, surface connection to a downstream water body that is "navigable in fact" can be protected under the Clean Water Act. This view has never been adopted by the full Supreme Court, and none of the lower courts have concluded that Scalia's test should be the sole rationale under which a wetland can be protected. Justice Kennedy explained that the Los Angeles River and large areas of the arid, western United States would not be protected under Scalia's approach.

Reducing the jurisdictional reach of the Clean Water Act would also likely hurt endangered species. Ephemeral aquatic habitats are important habitats for endangered Chiricahua leopard frogs, Sonora tiger salamanders and crustaceans like vernal pool fairy shrimp. Removing legal protections for wetlands that support these species will mean these areas could be degraded more easily without proper mitigation to protect endangered species.

"Anyone who has ever spent time in a wetland, even a wetland in the Arizona desert, knows these are incredible places, oases teeming with life. Trump's order casts a dark shadow over them, and the very real effect will be fewer homes for the birds, fish and other animals -- many of them rare and in danger of vanishing -- that we all hold dear," Suckling said.

At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature — to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters and climate that species need to survive.

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