Waterkeepers Chesapeake Joins Over 115 Waterkeeper Organizations and Other Groups In Opposition to Repeal of the Clean Water Rule
In 2015, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Army Corps (Corps) of Engineers passed the Clean Water Rule, resulting in a victory for a variety of streams, ponds, and wetlands that were vulnerable to pollution. Waterkeepers Chesapeake submitted comments that were supportive of the rule’s passage. The Rule was based on sound science and received broad public support.
The Clean Water Rule was part of a larger effort to clarify the definition of “waters of the United States” (WOTUS) under the Clean Water Act. How WOTUS is defined is important because any waterway that meets the WOTUS definition receives Clean Water Act (CWA) protections. Under the Rule’s updated definition of WOTUS, CWA protections would extend to the drinking water sources of 117 million people across the United States – every one in three Americans.
Despite this – earlier this year, President Trump urged the EPA to repeal the 2015 Clean Water Rule. This rule would rollback the new definition adopted in 2015, reverting us back to the less protective definitions of WOTUS that have been in place since the 1970s.
Waterkeepers Chesapeake joined over one hundred other Waterkeeper organizations across the United States in signing onto Waterkeeper Alliance’s comments on these detrimental rollbacks. Waterkeeper Alliance took a comprehensive look at the EPA’s proposed rescinding of the rule and found that it violates requirements under the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and Executive Order 13778. Further, Waterkeeper Alliance noted that neither EPA nor the Corps provided meaningful public participation required under federal law for these types of actions. The comments went on to state:
These failures are not mere technicalities and, if unaddressed, will severely undermine or eliminate fundamental CWA protections across the country – endangering our nation’s water resources…It would be difficult to overstate the critical importance of the CWA regulatory definition of “waters of the United States,” and thus this Proposed Rule, to the protection of human health, the wellbeing of communities, the success of local, state and national economies, and the functioning of our nation’s vast, interconnected aquatic ecosystems, as well as the many threatened and endangered species that depend upon those resources. If a stream, river, lake, or wetland is not included in the definition of “waters of the United States,” untreated toxic, biological, chemical, and radiological pollution can be discharged directly into those waters without meeting any of the CWA’s permitting and treatment requirements. Excluded waterways could be dredged, filled and polluted with impunity because the CWA’s most fundamental human health and environmental safeguard – the prohibition on unauthorized discharges in 33 U.S.C. § 1311(a) – would no longer apply. Because “isolated” waterways do not exist in reality but are merely a legal fiction of recent vintage, unregulated pollution discharged into waterways that fall outside the Agencies’ definition will not only harm those receiving waters, but will often travel through well-known hydrologic processes before harming other water resources, drinking water supplies, recreational waters, fisheries, industries, agriculture, and, ultimately, human beings.
In the Chesapeake region, streams and tributaries in the upper reaches of the Susquehanna, Potomac, Shenandoah, James and many other rivers would not receive protections under the Clean Water Act if the repeal of the Clean Water Rule is upheld. The repeal will mean more pollution to the lakes and streams we rely on for drinking water supply or for fishing and swimming, and a green light for the rampant destruction of wetlands that prevent dangerous flooding.
Clean water is essential for the health and sustainability of our families, communities and environment. Lest we forget -- we all live downstream. We have a responsibility, as a nation, to control pollution at its source and protect the drinking water sources of all residents – regardless of where they live.
Waterkeepers Chesapeake will keep you informed with any updates on this rollback as we continue to fight its implementation.