The EPA’s Plans to Gut the Clean Water Rule


President Trump vowed “to promote clean air and clear water” in February 2017. Flash forward a year and that promise seems to be a flimsy one at best.

The Trump administration has recently made it clear it will gut an Obama-era rule designed to protect smaller bodies of water in the U.S. On January 21, 2018, the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers finalized a rule for the 2015 Clean Water Rule regarding the date of its applicability. The new applicability date will be in 2020, “during which time both agencies will continue the process of reconsidering the 2015 Rule,” a press release stated. In other words, the Trump administration will look for a way to gut the rule.

The Clean Water Rule, established in 2015 by the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers, makes clear which bodies of water are protected under the Clean Water Act of 1972. Shortly after its enactment, stakeholders sued to stop its application. The small streams and wetlands that would be protected by the CWR contribute to the drinking water supplies of 117 million people, according to the EPA.

The Clean Water Act gave the EPA the authority to regulate the country’s navigable waters. However, the term “navigable waters” does not cover small streams and wetlands, as the Audobon Society points out in a blog post. Those small streams and wetlands tend to flow into the larger, navigable waters. It remained unclear whether the EPA could regulate them, and that is the reason for the CWR.

The Great Lakes are a great example of major waterways that small streams and wetlands feed into major waterways. Tributary waters make up almost two-thirds of the Great Lakes watershed. Or as the National Resources Defense Council put it, they are “larger than the open waters of the lakes themselves.” The smaller bodies of water that feed into the Great Lakes are necessary to keep them healthy. If they are polluted, the Great Lakes are harmed.

“Without the Clean Water Rule’s critical protections, innumerable small streams and wetlands that are essential for drinking water supplies, flood protection, and fish and wildlife habitat will be vulnerable to unregulated pollution, dredging and filling,” said Bob Irvin, President of American Rivers.

Pro-polluters keep challenging the Clean Water Rule

Before Trump came into office, a number of lawsuits by stakeholders challenged the implementation of the CWR. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals halted its implementation in October 2015. In January this year, the Supreme Court ruled that the Sixth Circuit lacks the authority to issue a stay.

Trump issued an executive order in February 2017 that instructed the EPA to review the CWR. The stated reason for the review was to ensure that the country’s “navigable waters” are pollution free while “promoting economic growth, minimizing regulatory uncertainty.” In June 2017 the EPA, Department of the Army and the Army Corps of Engineers proposed a rule to rescind the Clean Water Rule and recodify the regulatory text that was in place before the 2015 CWR.

The pro-pollution stance of EPA administrator Scott Pruitt

There should be no surprise that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt would willingly undertake Trump’s instructions to roll back the CW. Back in 2015, Scott Pruitt co-wrote an op-ed piece with Rep. Rand Paul (R-KY) calling the CWR “breathtaking in its overreach, and flatly contrary to the will of Congress, which, with the passing of the Clean Water Act, decided that the states should plan the development and use of local land and water resources.”

Pruitt has strong anti-environmental beliefs. He once called the debate on climate change “far from settled” in a 2016 opinion piece. He went on to write that “scientists continue to disagree about the degree and extent of global warming and its connection to the actions of mankind.” That same year, acting as the state attorney general of Oklahoma, he joined a coalition of state attorneys general who sued the EPA over the Clean Power Plan.

Let Trump and Congress know you support the Clean Water Rule

There is something concerned Americans can do. They can make their voices heard about the CWR. A petition asks Congress to support the rule, while an NRDC petition lets Trump and Pruitt know you oppose gutting it.

Photo by Steve Huntington on Unsplash


Gina-Marie Cheeseman
Gina-Marie Cheeseman
Gina-Marie Cheeseman, freelance writer/journalist/copyeditor Twitter: @gmcheeseman

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