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Groups Vow to Fight Rollback of Clean-Water Protections

Thousands of vernal pools, such as this one in California, will lose federal protection if a new version of the "Waters of the United States" rule is finalized. (California Native Plant Society)
Thousands of vernal pools, such as this one in California, will lose federal protection if a new version of the "Waters of the United States" rule is finalized. (California Native Plant Society)
December 12, 2018

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Negative reaction from conservation groups was swift to a Trump administration proposal on Tuesday to remove federal clean-water protections from many smaller streams and wetlands.

The Environmental Protection Agency announced a replacement for the Waters of the United States Rule that would lift federal protections from water sources that are seasonal and wetlands that are not connected by a stream to a larger body of water.

Jenifer Collins, a legislative representative for the law firm Earthjustice, said the proposal ignores the basic science of hydrology.

"All water is connected," she said. "So, whether it's a small stream that only runs part of the year or a wetland that isn't directly connected to a larger body of water, they feed into the larger bodies of water that are the drinking-water sources for millions of people across the country."

Acting EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler called the original, Obama-era rule "government overreach" and said the new rule gives power back to states, reducing red tape for farmers and other landowners.

Collins said the original rule was meant to protect millions of acres of seasonal wildlife habitat, especially in arid Western states such as California and Nevada, and to keep the water supply free of pesticides and industrial runoff.

"This proposal is a prime example of the administration putting polluter profits over people," she said. "Really, it's just benefiting polluting industry, like oil and gas, and other developers."

States do have the option of requiring stricter standards within their borders.

The public now has two months to comment on the proposed changes at Regulations.gov. If the rule is finalized, multiple conservation groups already have vowed to take the fight to the courts.

The proposed rule changes are online at epa.gov, and the original rule is at federalregister.gov.

Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - CA