Clean Water Act under the microscope
As the industry slows down just enough so we all can enjoy more time with our families and the (mostly) beautiful weather, what’s happening around us continues to move forward.
On June 27, the Wall Street Journal reported the Trump administration is in the process of dismantling the “Waters of the United States,” a decree that expanded the federal government’s power in regulating rivers, lakes, smaller streams and wetlands.
The Trump plan, according to the newspaper, would “re-codify the regulatory text” that existed before the WOTUS rule went into effect in 2015. Then the administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Department of the Army and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would develop a new rule.
The current rule was devised to make it easier to predict what actions the EPA will take, and what processes companies and other stakeholders may have to undergo for projects and permitting.
In the Wall Street Journal article, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is quoted saying, “We are taking significant action to return power to the states and provide regulatory certainty to our nation’s farmers and businesses.”
Now let’s take a look at some recently released statistics. The new study “Perspectives on America’s Water” finds 87% of nearly 6,700 respondents believe water is the most important natural resource in Americans’ daily lives. Clean air comes in second at 81%. Additionally, 61% of people believe water problems are a major issue for the country.
To add on, a study conducted by Applied Research-West on behalf of the Water Quality Association, reveals concern from homeowners regarding the quality of their water jumped to 29% compared to 12% in 2015. Also, 36% of people report they’re concerned about contaminants in their water — up from 25% two years ago.
“The significant increase in these numbers is sobering, but not surprising,” WQA Executive Director Pauli Undesser says. “Homeowners are seeing more and more evidence of water issues across the country and are understandably concerned about protecting their family the best they can.”
Any change to the WOTUS rule opens up the possibility of contamination to our drinkable water. A Newsweek article by Patrick Parenteau, a law professor at Vermont Law School, says once Pruitt publishes the proposal to rescind the rule, the public has 30 days to file comments electronically.
A survey by the Environmental Law Institute noted in Parenteau’s article says 36 states “have laws that could restrict the authority of state agencies or localities to regulate waters left unprotected by the federal Clean Water Act.” Additionally, a report by the Association of State Wetland Managers says only 23 states have laws that directly regulate activities with an impact on wetlands. The rest depend upon authority provided by section 401 of the Clean Water Act to provide protection for important wetlands.
So now it comes down to business interest vs. the people’s interest and states’ rights vs. federal reach. I’ll continue to be a proponent for protecting our most important natural resource — water.
While it seems important for our industry to have access to more water, if something goes awry and that water is unusable, what good is it?