Trump’s latest executive action weakens environmental protections

WiG Wire

President Donald Trump signed a new executive order to make it easier to destroy and pollute thousands of wetlands, especially in the interior western states.

“Trump just put millions of acres of wetlands on the chopping block and our wildlife and waters will suffer,” said Kierán 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.”

The 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 also requires the two agencies to adopt a narrow interpretation of the Clean Water Act advanced by Justice Antonin 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 was not adopted by the full Supreme Court and lower courts have not concluded that Scalia’s test should be the sole rationale under which a wetland can be protected.

Reducing the jurisdictional reach of the Clean Water Act also would 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.

Additional reaction …

Coalition of attorneys general from New York, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Oregon, and Vermont: “We strongly oppose President Trump’s action today that undermines Clean Water Act protections and the public health and environment of our states.
“The President’s order runs counter to the Clean Water Act’s, and the EPA’s, very purpose: achieving clean water. The Clean Water Rule is a measured, reasonable, and lawful application of sound and uncontroverted science to protect our nation’s upstream source waters. We rely on these waters to ensure clean drinking water, recreation, and viable commercial fishing and navigation. Abandoning the Clean Water Rule will allow uncontrolled pollution of these critical water resources. It could also harm the competitiveness of our state economies by forcing us to spend more to clean up the pollution of deregulated waters coming from upstream states that refuse to control such pollution.

“Clean water is essential to life — and the people of our states and the nation deserve the basic protections established by the Clean Water Rule, to ensure that the benefits of clean water are shared equally, regardless of state lines.

“We won’t hesitate to protect our people and our environment—including by aggressively opposing in court President Trump’s actions that ignore both the law and the public’s paramount need for clean water.”

Friends of the Earth Oceans campaigner Marissa Knodel: “Water is life, and Trump’s dirty water order puts our environment and millions of American lives at risk so that polluters can profit from the destruction of our waterways. The Clean Water Rule is grounded in science and the law so that our streams and wetlands can keep us healthy and safe, provide habitat for fish and wildlife, and beautiful places to recreate. In contrast, Trump’s dirty water order is dangerous and illegal, based on corporate greed and unlawful environmental pollution.”

Earthjustice president Trip Van Noppen: “This action is a giveaway to polluters that will result in more contaminated waterways, more destroyed wetlands,  and will harm small businesses and people in communities across the nation who rely on streams and wetlands for clean water.”