Clean Water for All Coalition mobilizes more than 500,000 comments opposed to EPA’s plan to strip protections for streams and wetlands

Read the letter from 155 NGOs opposing the Dirty Water Rule

Washington, D.C. — A broad coalition of equity-focused, conservation, environmental, health, and wildlife groups submitted more than 500,000 comments from the public to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Army Corps of Engineers (The Corps) opposed to its proposal to withdraw Clean Water Act protections from millions of miles of streams and more than half the nation’s remaining wetlands. People from every state spoke out against this proposed Dirty Water Rule and urged the agencies to instead focus on defending and implementing the 2015 Clean Water Rule. The number of people who spoke out against this proposal is noteworthy as EPA and the Corps only provided the public 60 days to comment.

“It’s clear that the public doesn’t support this radical and unscientific reinterpretation of one of our nation’s bedrock environmental laws,” said Bob Wendelgass, Clean Water Action President and CEO. “Wiping out the safeguards that we have relied on for nearly five decades will put our health and communities at risk, and will only benefit the corporate special interests who have tried to weaken the Clean Water Act since it passed in 1972. Americans know that we need to do more, not less to protect our water and have responded with a resounding no every time the Trump administration or Congress has tried to gut protections for our water.”

“The EPA is pushing the biggest rollback in the history of the Clean Water Act without any regard for the health, safety, or future of Southern communities,” said Blan Holman, managing attorney of the Southern Environmental Law Center’s Charleston office and leader of its Clean Water Defense Initiative. “Our nation’s water is already struggling with pollution. Gutting the protections that Americans have relied on for generations will make the situation much worse, putting thousands of stream miles and millions of acres of wetlands in danger. If the EPA is unwilling to listen to the public, follow the law, and protect the water our families and communities depend on, we will see them in court.”

This proposal is a radical reinterpretation of the Clean Water Act. If finalized as proposed it would remove federal pollution-control safeguards for rain-dependent streams and exclude wetlands that do not have a surface water connection to other protected waters. These streams feed the drinking water sources of millions of Americans and communities throughout the nation rely on wetlands for flood protection, groundwater recharge, and more. The final rule could go even further than the proposal. In addition to categorically excluding rain-dependent streams from protections, the agencies asked for comment on whether seasonally-flowing streams should also lose federal safeguards.

“From Puget Sound to the Great Lakes to the Chesapeake Bay, we depend on clean water for our health, our ecology, and our sense of place. Yet with the Dirty Water Rule, EPA is proposing the single most egregious attack on clean water in the history of the Clean Water Act. By leaving vast stream networks and over half the nation’s wetlands vulnerable to pollution and degradation, we endanger drinking water sources for millions of Americans, and wildlife as well. EPA should heed the clear public opposition to its proposal and abandon this Dirty Water Rule,” said Ed Johnson, President, Environment America.

“We need workable standards that protect our rivers and streams, lakes, and wetlands from pollution and destruction,” said Jon Devine, director of federal water policy at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Instead, the Trump administration wants to gut these protections and send us back to a time when polluters could contaminate or destroy water bodies that help supply our drinking water, protect us from floods, and provide places for us to swim and fish.”

The proposed Dirty Water Rule ignores the science that demonstrates that small streams and wetlands are connected to larger water bodies. These upstream water resources impact water quality and flow downstream. The proposal ignores the broad public support for clean water and the 2015 Clean Water Rule. Since 2014 millions of people have spoken out for clean water – whether in support of the Clean Water Rule or in opposition to attempts to weaken or repeal and replace the rule.

“It should go without saying, but keeping our waters free from pollution upstream keeps pollution out of our drinking water downstream. For too long dirty fuel companies and developers have polluted our waterways by exploiting the uncertainty over which waters are protected by the Clean Water Act.  It’s past time EPA Administrator Wheeler stops working to please polluters and instead makes clean, healthy water the priority,” said Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune.

“Clean water is a right, not a privilege,” said Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. “It is irresponsible to put our drinking water and our nation’s fish and wildlife heritage at risk for the benefit of a few industries. This proposal would remove clean water protections for at least half the nation’s wetlands and many of our streams — leaving millions vulnerable to unsafe drinking water and at increased risk of flooding. We urge the Trump Administration to listen to the overwhelming public support for clean water and cast this proposal aside immediately.”

The Trump administration proposal will increase costs for water treatment and flood protection, ultimately transferring the costs of pollution on to ratepayers and consumers. The most effective way to protect drinking water is to stop pollution at the source. Removing Clean Water Act protections from streams and wetlands will make it more likely that upstream pollution will flow to larger water bodies downstream. The streams and wetlands that will lose federal safeguards act as natural pollution filters and sponges. They are critical parts of the nation’s water infrastructure.

“The Dirty Water Rule is nothing short of a full attack on clean water for millions of Americans,” Abigail Dillen, president of Earthjustice said in a statement. “It’s another shameless scheme to line the pockets of the multibillion dollar polluters who helped put President Trump in office. Too many communities — especially those of color who overwhelmingly suffer the consequences of polluted drinking water — are already suffering from the health effects of outdated, corroded water infrastructure. We can’t afford to make this situation even worse. Make no mistake: we will make use of the full strength of our nation’s bedrock environmental laws to protect families and communities from dangerous attacks like this. We will hold this administration accountable in court as we have from the start.”

“Clean water is a basic human right, but Trump’s reckless Dirty Water Rule jeopardizes the waterways our families, communities, and economy depend on,” said League of Conservation Voters President Gene Karpinksi. “While too many communities, particularly low income communities and communities of color, already struggle with access to clean water, Trump and his administration are simply making the problem worse by gutting safeguards for our drinking water. Instead of consistently putting the profits of polluters ahead of our public health, the EPA would be wise to listen to the public, who actually want more protections for our waters, not less, and abandon this asinine proposal.”

“As history continues to demonstrate, policy decisions based purely on financial motives – which is precisely what’s driving the Environmental Protection Agency’s attempt to rollback the Clean Water Act – usually have negative consequences for the public, particularly those living in low-income communities and communities of color,” explained Peggy Shepard, Co-Founder & Executive Director of WE ACT for Environmental Justice. “Have we learned nothing from Flint? To save money, officials ended up subjecting residents to five years of polluted drinking water, with nearly 9,000 children exposed to lead for up to 18 months. Why isn’t the media covering the Dirty Water Rule, while there’s still time to stop it, instead of waiting until more people have their health and safety jeopardized by contaminated drinking water?”

“People have the power in our democracy and overwhelming oppose the Trump EPA’s ‘Dirty Water Rule’ that puts polluter profits ahead of people’s health,” said Rev Lennox Yearwood Jr., President & CEO of Hip Hop Caucus. “The administration’s attacks on our clean water comes at a time when our communities — particularly low-income and communities of color — are already facing crumbling infrastructure, increasing impacts from climate change, and corporate polluters that face extremely limited accountability for poisoning our people and the planet. Now it is time for EPA to take heed and end their blatant attack against our basic right to clean water.”

The public has spoken loudly – the agencies should drop this dangerous proposal. The Trump administration’s Dirty Water Rule. The Clean Water for All Coalition and its partners will continue to push back against agency efforts to weaken protections for our water, educate members of Congress about what’s at stake, and organize Americans to stop the attacks on our water and health.


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