Groups oppose EPA proposal to gut Clean Water Act
The Southern Environmental Law Center has filed comments on behalf of 80 conservation and community organizations against the EPA’s proposal to drastically reduce what waters are protected under the Clean Water Act, jeopardizing drinking-water sources for 200 million Americans and over 32 million people in the South, or seven out of ten Southerners.
“The EPA is planning to deal a devastating blow to our nation’s clean water, threatening people’s health, environment, and local economies,” said Blan Holman, managing attorney of the Southern Environmental Law Center’s Charleston office and leader of its Clean Water Defense Initiative. “This is the most egregious and dangerous attack on national clean water protections since the bipartisan Clean Water Act became law, nearly half a century ago. And as a result, Americans will suffer from the loss of these protections while polluters reap the rewards.”
Key points detailed in the comments, which can be accessed here, include:
- EPA’s proposal would strip protections from a huge swath of U.S. waters and wetlands. Experts retained by SELC have determined the proposal could eliminate protections for more than 90 percent of the stream network in parts of North Carolina. In significant parts of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, the proposal could strip protection for more than 40 percent of streams.
- America’s waters are already struggling with pollution. By all accounts, more protections for clean water, not less, are necessary if we are to achieve the bipartisan objective of the Clean Water Act: “to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters.” EPA’s own data finds that more than half of tested streams and nearly 80 percent of bays and estuaries in America have elevated levels of pollution and do not meet water standards—yet EPA is proposing to clear the way for even more pollution.
- Wetlands would be particularly devastated by this proposal. An analysis by SELC indicates that a significant majority of headwater wetlands in coastal Southeastern states would lose protections along with a majority of other wetland types. Despite having years of permitting data, EPA conducted no meaningful analysis of what its proposal means for wetlands.
- The proposal ignores Congressional intent and Supreme Court precedent. When passing the 1972 Clean Water Act, Congress explicitly rejected the approach taken here—giving states free rein to allow pollution in small streams and wetlands. Congress endorsed uniform nationwide water protection and courts have upheld it. The EPA proposal ignores congressional intent and even dismisses binding U.S. Supreme Court precedent—reversing decades of practice concerning what waters are protected under the Clean Water Act.
- This proposal would cost Americans billions of dollars per year. EPA acknowledges that the proposal will increase flooding and downstream damages, require more expensive restoration efforts, increase costs for drinking water providers, and increase oil spill response costs, yet it says that avoided permitting costs outweigh the widespread destruction or pollution of streams and wetlands. But EPA ignored many of the economic values of intact waters—like the 1 million gallons of floodwater stored by an acre of wetlands. Including those values makes it plain that this proposal will cost Americans billions of dollars, but aid large polluters. Even modestly increasing the scope of the benefits analysis shows that the proposal would result in losing $2.4 billion in the multiple benefits provided by wetland each year.
SELC filed on behalf of 80 non-profit organizations from across the South and the United States, representing a broad range of interests including hunting, fishing, birding, surfing, conservation, water quality, community empowerment, retired and former employees of the Environmental Protection Agency, and marine science. Full comments are available here.