EPA’s Pruitt Has Had Enough Clean Water
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EPA’s Pruitt Has Had Enough Clean Water

He Prefers ‘Regulatory Certainty’ for Polluters 

The country’s top pollution advocate is taking the first steps to undo a federal rule that protects more than half of the nation’s lakes and rivers from pollution.

Polluters and their Republican supporters have been able to block the 2015 rule from taking effect by challenging it in court. One of those challengers was Scott Pruitt who sued the Environmental Protection Agency when he was Oklahoma’s attorney general.

Pruitt, now the EPA administrator, wants to toss out the Clean Water Rule and reevaluate what waters in our country can be protected from polluters.

“We are taking significant action to return power to the states and provide regulatory certainty to our nation’s farmers and businesses,” Pruitt said.

Pruitt’s move follows an executive order from Trump in February that asked Pruitt to consider repealing and replacing the rule.

In 1968, four years before the passage of the Clean Water Act, famed Life magazine photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt shot a photo essay, “Blighted Great Lakes,” chronicling the severe pollution then common in Lake Erie. This photograph shows untreated pulp waste from a paper mill dumped into the lake. The toxic waste is contained by an ineffective barrier of old tires and oil drums.  You can see the original essay here, page 36. The photo is from The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images.

“Once again, the Trump Administration has agreed to do the bidding of the worst polluters in our country, and once again it’s putting the health of American families and communities at risk,” said Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club.

Environmental groups said getting rid of the Clean Water Rule would remove drinking water safeguards for one in three Americans. People will have 30 days to comment once the proposed regulation is published in the Federal Register.

“This proposal strikes directly at public health,” said Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “It would strip out needed protections for the streams that feed drinking water sources for one in every three Americans.”

The 1972 Clean Water Act allows federal agencies to regulate navigable rivers and lakes. Businesses can get permits to discharge chemicals and wastes. Before the Clean Water Act became law, polluters could dump wastes into our nation’s lakes, rivers and streams until they caused “unreasonable harm.”

Courts haven’t been able to agree how much of our nation’s waters the EPA can protect from polluters under the Clean Water Act. A 1985 U.S. Supreme Court case, United States v. Riverside Bayview, allowed the government to regulate what businesses can dump in a state’s bogs and marshes.

But another U.S. Supreme Court case, Rapanos v. United States, revised that ruling in 2006 decision about developers John Rapanos and June and Keith Carabell. Justice Antonin Scalia wrote that only “relatively permanent, standing or continuously flowing” waters or wetlands connected to navigable waterways can be federally protected.

The Clean Water Rule was supposed to clear up the confusion from the various court opinions. The rule expanded federal protection to 20 million acres of wetlands that aren’t directly connected to large waterways and streams and rivers that flow only part of the year.

Action Box / What you can do about it

Tell Pruitt your thoughts via his Facebook and Twitter sites. His email is [email protected]

This is a map showing environmental stress on the Great Lakes. It was prepared in 2013 by Chris Brackley of Canadian Geographic.

His phone number is 202-564-4700.


Write him at:

USEPA Headquarters
William Jefferson Clinton Building
1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Mail Code: 1101A
Washington, DC 20460

Contact your representative and senators.

The Sierra Club, one of the nonprofits working to protect our nation’s waters, can be reached at 415-977-5500 or [email protected]



June 29, 2017