Trump Admin's 'Reckless and Capricious' Rollback of Clean Water Rule Threatens Drinking Water, Environmentalists Warn

The Trump administration is expected to announce rollbacks on water protections included in the Clean Water Act (1972) on Thursday.

In Dallas, officials are expected to reveal their alternative to an Obama-era rule expanding the definition of "waters of the United States" (WOTUS) to include tributaries and other bodies of water not previously covered, and thereby expanding federal protection.

Environmentalists describe the proposed rule change as "reckless and capricious" and say it will threaten drinking water for millions of Americans across the country. The final details have not been confirmed but a loosening of the rules is expected to allow more pollutants (organic or otherwise) into waterways, which will particularly affect states downstream, where more contaminants will accumulate. It is also expected to remove protections on wetlands.

"All ephemeral streams will no longer be protected. Many streams will no longer be protected. And most of the wetlands in the country will no longer be protected," Mark Ryan, a lawyer and member of the Environmental Protection Network (EPN), told Newsweek. He added that while the finer points haven't been concerned, previous proposals suggest the biggest changes to the Clean Water Act since it was introduced in 1972.

The main beneficiaries of the new rules won't be farmers (who were excluded from the original rule) but developers, mining companies and organizations in the oil and gas industry. They will face fewer restrictions when it comes to development of pipelines, mines and building developments, say environmentalists.

The move is expected to finalize a lengthy process that started a little over a month after President Trump took office, when he ordered regulators to review the 2015 rule in February 2017.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) repealed the rule in September as it currently applied to 22 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. territories. At the time, Kellogg Schwab, the Abel Wolman Professor in Water and Public Health at John Hopkins, told Newsweek there was a "distinct probability that human health will be compromised."

Bob Irvin, President and CEO of American Rivers, called the administration's "Dirty Water Rule" an affront to the health and safety of people across the country depending on rivers and streams for clean water.

"It is reckless and capricious, reversing the Clean Water Rule which was firmly based on sound legal and scientific analyses, extensive fact-finding and stakeholder input, and broad popular support," he said. "President Trump has frequently said he wants 'crystal clean water.' This rule will result in dirty water, plain and simple."

According to John Rumpler, the Clean Water Program Director of Environment America, the proposed change would wipe out federal protection for half the country's wetlands, as well as thousands of streams, putting some of America's most iconic waterways at risk—from Puget Sound to the Great Lakes

"Wetlands filter out pollutants, provide wildlife habitat, and protect communities by absorbing floodwaters," he told Newsweek. "Over the past century, we have already lost millions of acres of wetlands to development. Allowing developers to pave over even more of our remaining wetlands will put many U.S. cities and towns at a greater risk of flooding."

However, the new piece of legislation is likely to be met with legal challenges. "If President Trump is re-elected, they'll litigate it through his next second term," said Ryan.

"If President Trump is not re-elected, then I think there's a very good chance that the next Democratic president would rescind this rule…and then we would be back in to redrafting, a new rule and more litigation."

Water Way
Color image of a small river flowing over river rock in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park in North Carolina. The proposed changes are "reckless," say environmentalists. BaberPhotography80/iStock