By Jennifer Peters, Water Programs Director – Clean Water Action
It’s no secret that Scott Pruitt, the new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator, is no fan of the Clean Water Rule (or any EPA regulation for that matter), commonsense safeguards to protect small streams and wetlands from polluters, including drinking water sources. As Oklahoma AG he led a multi-state lawsuit to sue the agency over the rule and has testified before Congress to express his opposition. In his written response to questions from Senators on the Environment and Public Works committee during his confirmation, Pruitt doubled down on his intent to gut these vital clean water protections:
I do not support the WOTUS (Waters of the United States) rule and do not believe that it is consistent with the Clean Water Act. Accordingly, if confirmed, I will take appropriate steps, in accordance with the Administrative Procedures Act, to withdraw the rule and replace it with a rule that is within the authority granted to EPA and the Corps under the Clean Water Act.
Pruitt falsely claimed that the Clean Water Rule is not consistent with the Clean Water Act. In reality the rule simply restores protections for vital resources such as small streams and wetlands that were historically protected by federal agencies for decades after Congress passed the Clean Water Act in 1972, which included a clear directive that federal jurisdiction over surface water be as broad as possible. Polluters successfully brought controversial lawsuits before the Supreme Court in 2001 and 2006 that resulted in new loopholes that have made it difficult for agencies to protect small streams and wetlands from pollution.
Withdrawing the Clean Water Rule and replacing it with a new rule, is an enormous waste of limited agency time and taxpayer resources. EPA’s public outreach on the Clean Water Rule was robust and extensive. Not only did the public have 6 months to comment on the rule (most proposed regulations have a comment period of only 2-3 months), the Agency held over 400 meetings to solicit input from polluting industries, farmers, state agencies, conservation and environmental groups and other interested parties. Over a million people commented on the rule and the vast majority of comments were supportive. Scrapping the Clean Water Rule entirely and starting over from scratch is a complete waste of time and money.
In his written response to Senators’ questions, Pruitt also grossly mischaracterized what the Clean Water Rule actually regulates:
The WOTUS rule exceeded the authority granted by Congress by allowing federal regulation of land if rainwater collects on the surface and seeps into the ground or if rainwater runs over the land as ephemeral flows. It also exceeded CWA authority by regulating isolated ponds and wetlands.
The Clean Water Rule does not regulate land or create any new permitting requirements. A person or business only needs a Clean Water Act permit if they intend to pollute or destroy a federally protected river, stream, wetland or other surface water resource. This is critically important because polluting or destroying a water resource can obviously harm other water users, fish and wildlife, and polluting activities need to be minimized to ensure that downstream neighbors are not harmed by upstream polluters. Wetlands and ephemeral streams need to be protected because they help reduce flooding and filter pollution. In the arid Rocky Mountain west where I live, ephemeral streams also carry the spring snowmelt that is so critical to filling up the reservoirs that supply our drinking water.
The Clean Water Rule actually limits, not exceeds, the authority granted to federal agencies in 1972 by Congress. For the first time, certain types of ditches and erosion features are explicitly excluded from protections. The Clean Water Rule is not perfect, and in fact some environmental groups are suing EPA to strengthen portions of the rule that are not protective enough.
There are many reasons why the Scott Pruitt should be not be sitting at EPA right now, but his opposition of the Clean Water Rule is right on top. The Clean Water Rule is a commonsense regulation that was thoroughly vetted, and supported, by the public. Repealing the rule and then undertaking a new rulemaking instead of allowing ongoing litigation to make its way through the courts is misguided. This type of wasteful action is an example of government bureaucracy at its worst.
The job of the EPA is to protect public health and the environment above anything else and Americans deserve an EPA administrator who understands the importance of healthy water resources and prioritizes protecting people over polluters. That is not Scott Pruitt – he has built a career out of working with polluters to repeal environmental protections.