Trump Administration Takes Aim at Clean Water Protections After Climate Change Talks in Poland
Directly after the Trump Administration pushed for the adoption of fossil fuel energy sources at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Poland, the White House announced a sweeping overhaul of federal laws protecting wetlands, streams, and rivers. The move comes as a further assault on environmental protections by President Trump, who has made clear his commitment to unraveling regulations in favor of economic development.
The change to the Clean Water Act was signed and approved on Tuesday, December 11th by the acting administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Andrew Wheeler. The EPA called the move a way to clarify the text of the protectionary law and a move that would cause, “significant cost savings, protect the nation’s navigable waters, help sustain economic growth, and reduce barriers to business development.”
Under the previous iteration of the Clean Water Act, enacted by the Obama Administration in 2015, farmers and businesses who were located near wetlands or streams were restricted from using some environmentally degrading cultivating techniques and were prevented from using certain pesticides or chemicals. These new rules helped to prevent damaging runoff and soil erosion in waters across the United States and were credited with helping to preserve numerous vulnerable ecosystems.
The new version of the regulations signed in this week by the Trump Administration works to remove these protections. All changes made by President Obama in 2015 have been reversed, from cultivating techniques to the use of pesticides. In addition, it removes protections for some additional types of water bodies, including so-called “ephemeral streams” (streams that only fill up during rain) and wetlands not near major bodies of water.
For farmers, industrial owners, and those involved in the golf and hotel management business, the environmental rollback came as an overwhelming success. Gerald Howard, CEO of the National Home Builders Association, commented on the former Obama era regulations, saying, “when you have uncertainty and overreach it makes it incredibly difficult to build American homes.”
However, for environmental supporters and activists, the actions of the Trump administration were simply the latest attacks against fundamental protections for the nations forests, animals and bodies of water. A spokesperson for the National Resource Defense Council, Jon Devine, called the proposal “reckless” and argued that “now is the time to strengthen protections for our waterways, not weaken them.”
Alongside his broadside against the Clean Water Act, President Trump also fought against environmental reform at the United Nations World Climate Summit in Krakow, Poland. The U.S. delegation to the meeting spent its time actively arguing for the adoption of coal and other fossil fuels. Their main presentation was met with protests and chanting that effectively drowned out the speaker, Wells Griffith.
Despite how unpopular the Trump Administration's environmental opinions are on a global stage, domestically President Trump has a large amount of support from his base. This support, on which the President ran in 2016, has helped to motivate his dismantling of numerous environmental regulations, like the Clean Water Act.
It is likely that the most damaging act of President Trump may come in the near future if the United States pulls out of the Paris Climate Accords. In such a case, it may sink the multilateral agreement to limit carbon emissions made by the global community, and cause irreversible damage to the environment.