WASHINGTON — The Trump administration is poised to withdraw federal protections for countless waterways and wetlands across the country, making good on President Donald Trump’s campaign pledge to weaken landmark water rules long resented by some developers, farmers and oil, gas and mining executives.
Environmental groups said the Trump administration proposal would have a sweeping impact on how the country safeguards the nation’s waterways, scaling back not just a 2015 Obama administration interpretation of federal jurisdiction over the nation’s waters, but also how federal agencies enforce the 1972 Clean Water Act.
“The Trump administration has just given a big Christmas gift to polluters,” said Bob Irvin, president of the American Rivers environmental nonprofit. “Americans all over the country are concerned about the safety of their drinking water — this is not the time to be rolling back protections.”
The changes would affect what waterways and wetlands fall under jurisdiction of the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. A set of White House talking points obtained by The Associated Press last week said the Trump administration would remove federal protections for wetlands nationally unless they are connected to another federally protected waterway, and for streams, creeks, washes and ditches that run only during rains or snow melt.
Jan Goldman-Carter of the National Wildlife Federation said the move could remove federal protections for millions of miles of wetlands and waterways, leaving them more vulnerable to destruction by developers and farmers or to oil spills, fertilizer runoff and other pollutants.
Environmental groups say the kind of isolated wetlands, runoff-fed streams and often dry washes that would lose federal protections also help buffer communities from the worsening impact of drought, floods and hurricanes under climate change, and are vital for wildlife.
Trump promised during his campaign to remake the water rules and formally ordered the overhaul in his first months as president. He called the water protections among the “worst” federal regulations.
Supporters of the Trump administration move say the rollback will have no impact on drinking water. They argued the current state of regulations, requiring permits for work affecting those federally protected waterways, was confusing for land owners.
The rules would be up for public comment, ahead of any final adoption by the Trump administration. Environmental groups promise legal challenges.