Terry H. Schwadron
Dec. 12, 2018
It’s one thing for the White House to argue — pigheadedly — that it dislikes climate agreements because no other country should dictate rules to the United States. It’s quite another to poke the environmental bear, and put on an international show to defend continued reliance on fossil fuels and coal.
That this move at this year’s version of climate control talks in Poland should come at the same time that theTrump administration is unveiling plans to weaken federal clean water rules is insulting and harmful. These are rules that protect millions of acres of wetlands and thousands of miles of streams nationwide from pesticide runoff and other pollutants — all while Trump repeated says publicly that he is committed to “crystal-clean water.”
The water protections were put into place during the administration of President George H.W. Bush, who implemented a policy designed to ensure that no wetlands lost federal protection. Wetlands play key roles in filtering surface water and protecting against floods, while also providing wildlife habitat.
But President Trump, who has made it his business to trash environmental rules, argues that the water rules work against the rights of farmers, rural landowners and real estate developers to use their property as they see fit. An Obama-era rule in 2015, for example, said that farmers using land near streams and wetlands were restricted from doing certain kinds of plowing and planting certain crops, and would have been required to apply for permits from the Environmental Protection Agency in order to use chemical pesticides and fertilizers that could have run off into those water bodies. Under the new Trump plan, which lifts federal protections from many of those streams and wetlands, those requirements will also be lifted.
The Environmental Protection Agency had no comment on the plan.
But in context, the water rules rollback is just the latest in a series of actions by the Trump administration to weaken or undo major environmental rules, including proposals listed by The New York Times that weaken regulations on planet-warming emissions from cars, power plants and oil and gas drilling rigs, that speed new drilling in the vast Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and efforts that undercut protections under the Endangered Species Act.
This week in Katowice, Poland, at an annual United Nations conference on mitigating global warming, Trump administration officials held an event touting the benefits of fossil fuels. Trump’s top White House adviser on energy and climate told 200 participants that coal and fossil fuels are great.“We strongly believe that no country should have to sacrifice economic prosperity or energy security in pursuit of environmental sustainability,” said Wells Griffith, Trump’s adviser.
According to The Washington Post coverage, that drew mocking laughter. A woman yelled, “These false solutions are a joke!” And dozens of people erupted into chants of protest.
The Post called the event a piece of theater that highlighted the awkward position the American delegation finds itself in as career bureaucrats seek to advance the Trump administration’s agenda in an international arena aimed at cutting back on fossil fuels.
Indeed, the United States lined up with Saudi Arabia, Russia and Australia as defenders of short-term jobs over long-term planetary health.
The administration will take comment for 60 days on the water rules, which also overturn that 2015 Obama order, before they take effect.
The Obama rule, developed jointly by the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers under the authority of the 1972 Clean Water Act, was designed to limit pollution in about 60 percent of the nation’s bodies of water, protecting sources of drinking water for about a third of the United States. It extended existing federal authority to limit pollution in large bodies of water, like the Chesapeake Bay and Puget Sound, to smaller bodies that drain into them, such as tributaries, streams and wetlands. It became a target for rural landowners, an important part of President Trump’s political base, since it could have restricted how much pollution from chemical fertilizers and pesticides could seep into water on their property. The new Trump water rule will retain federal protections for those larger bodies of water, the rivers that drain into them, and wetlands that are directly adjacent to those bodies of water, but not wetlands or so-called “ephemeral streams.”
The new proposals represent a victory for farmers and rural landowners, who lobbied the Trump administration aggressively to make them.
Just how many new jobs might result from allowing runoff of pollution in streams was not discussed.
The new rule will strip away protection millions of acres of pristine wetlands to more pollution. It would also make it easier for developers to pave over such wetlands.
Federal courts had already halted the implementation of the 2015 Obama-era rules in 28 states after opponents sued to block them. However, in recent months the rules had taken effect in the other 22 states.
So much for clean water.