President Donald Trump signed an executive order that could pollute many Americans’ drinking water sources.
On February 28, Trump ordered a review of the Clean Water Rule, with the aim of rolling it back. Former President Barack Obama finalised the Clean Water Rule in June 2015 to clear up confusion over which water bodies the federal government can regulate under the 1972 Clean Water Act, the main federal law for water pollution. Now, legal experts say, Trump appears to want to restrict what types of water are regulated much more than the Clean Water Rule and the regulations before it.
Specifically, his executive order would likely cut protections for many wetlands and smaller streams that help keep U.S. waters clean. All of this could result in dirtier drinking water supplies for millions of Americans. “Almost certainly, some water bodies will face increased pollution under a narrower federal Clean Water Rule,” Daniel Esty, professor of environmental law and policy at Yale Law School, wrote to Scientific American. “It would leave some critical water resources less protected.” Previously, oversight for those waters was decided on a case-by-case basis, although protection was often granted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency or Army Corps of Engineers. The 2015 rule never really went into effect, however, because a federal court stopped its implementation until judges decide a lawsuit against it, which is still in progress.
Jeffrey Gaba, professor of health law at Southern Methodist University, notes there is a chance the future rule might still require polluters to get a permit if they want to dump upstream of officially protected waters, because the contaminants ultimately flow into those waters.
The White House and EPA did not respond to requests for comment, nor did several groups who support the president’s executive order.
More polluted streams would harm water quality downstream for all sorts of activities. The EPA highlights drinking, swimming, farming, fishing, tourism and manufacturing as some of them.