On the campaign trail, US President Trump told a rowdy crowd in Lakeland, Florida, that he would ensure the United States had “crystal clear, crystal clean” water once he made it to the White House.
Last week, on Feb. 16, he signed a resolution that voided the Stream Protection Rule, a Department of the Interior regulation that safeguards communities from the impact of coal-mining on the nation’s waterways.
The Stream Protection Rule updated 33-year old regulations and would have required coal mining companies to discontinue practices that pollute streams and threaten drinking water supplies, and return waterways to their previous conditions through the monitoring and reporting of pollution. On the heels of the confirmation of the new EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, both the Republican-majority Senate and House voted to overturn the rule.
This week, Trump is expected to sign an executive order that would undo the EPA’s Clean Water Rule, effectively rolling back on yet another one of Obama’s policies on water and climate pollution.
In just one month, the new administration has followed through on its promise to dismantle regulations in favor of the fossil-fuel industry at the cost of the environment.
Shortly before he signed the resolution, dissolving the Stream Protection Rule, US President Trump called it, “another terrible job-killing rule, saving many thousands of American jobs, especially in the mines.”
However, according to an analysis from the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) the claim that thousands of jobs were at risk is an exaggeration. Instead, OSMRE estimates the reality of lost jobs at about 260 a year, which would be almost entirely offset by the jobs created through regulation, according to another analysis from the Congressional Research Service.
Aside from jobs, the protective resolution would have improved 6,000 miles of streams and 52,000 acres of forest, impacted by coal-mining each year. According to OSMRE, the regulation would have improved overall water quality, and kept the drinking water contaminants at a minimum. These improvements, however, are now set to be rolled back.
President Trump dismantled the rule using the 1996 Congressional Review Act (CRA) which bars future administrations from rewriting a “substantially” similar rule after the initial rule has been blocked.
Environmental advocates are outraged.
“It’s a travesty,” Deborah Murray, a senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center, told Huffington Post. “We should be able to depend on making progress toward cleaner air and cleaner water.”
Josh Mantell, an energy campaign manager with the Wilderness Society, told the Huffington Post that he is aware of the opposition to the regulation, “but the idea that you’d throw the entire thing out and not allow anyone to move forward just traps us in the past.”
In the following days, a second executive order is expected to overwrite the 2015 “Waters of the United States” rule, which defines every water body in the nation, and applies to 60% of the water bodies in the US.
The current rule, which was issued under the 1972 Clean Water Act, gives the federal government wide latitude to protect smaller tributaries as well wetlands that may be dry periodically, on the grounds that they still need to be protected from pollution and preserved as critical water supplies.
“I’m keeping my promise to the American people to get rid of wasteful regulations that do nothing, absolutely nothing but slow down the economy,” President Trump said at the signing.
The current erosion on environmental policies paints a dismal portrait of the future of America’s rivers and forests.