(EnviroNews DC News Bureau) — On Jan. 23, 2020, the Trump Administration finalized a rule rolling back the Clean Water Act (the Act), marking the first time it has ever been reduced in power outside of the courts. Specifically, the changes lay waste to protections for ephemeral and intermittent waterways that flow only in response to precipitation, and wetlands that aren’t directly connected to a major “navigable” river or waterway. Trump’s “Dirty Water Rule,” as it is being called across social media, has sparked outrage, concern, and fear amongst the environmental community.
The modifications to the rules were announced at the National Association of Home Builders International Builders’ Show in Las Vegas – an event featuring the industry many critics say will benefit most from the changes. Meanwhile, others see this as a huge win for agriculture, while still other opponents claim the rules were ramrodded through at the behest of the mining industry.
The Act has been weakened before by the courts in United States v. Riverside Bayview Homes, Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County v. United States, and Rapanos v. United States. Nevertheless, headlines like ‘Biggest Loss of water protection the country has ever seen’: Trump Guts Safeguards for US Streams and Wetlands, rang out around the country, reporting this as the biggest assault on water quality in U.S. history. But will the rollbacks be as devastating as news agencies and environmental groups claim? What’s the real scoop, and should you be concerned? In an effort to find out the answer to those questions, EnviroNews Editor-in-Chief Emerson Urry spoke in-depth with Erin Brockovich, one of America’s most well-known water protectors.
Brockovich gives it to readers straight in regards to the President (undergoing an impeachment trial in real-time), the changes to the Clean Water Act, and whether citizens should feel concerned over their own water supplies because of this recent move. The transcript to that interview reads as follows:
Emerson Urry: These rollbacks specifically exclude or weaken protections for streams and other smaller waterways like ephemeral and intermittent creeks, streams, and wetlands. According to some sources, the rollbacks would also exclude groundwater. What does it mean for the health of communities if these rollbacks really stick?
Erin Brockovich: There is no question whether the Trump Administration Clean Water Act rollbacks are going to stick or not; they are the law of the land. Let’s put the President’s pandering to corporate polluters in perspective: the regulations have barely been in effect for a year, they truly have just caused a great deal of confusion with the Army Corps of Engineers, which claimed it was unclear on how to implement them. And frankly, as a country we would have gone a long way simply enforcing the regulations on the books before the Obama Administration.
Urry: Specifically, what chemicals or pollutants do you think we will see increase in U.S. water supplies as a result of the rollback?
Brockovich: Predominantly agriculture-related discharges. So, nutrients like nitrates and phosphates, as well as pesticides like glyphosate (Roundup), which my State of California spays tons of every day into the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. We aren’t talking about point source discharges [with this change] whatsoever.
Urry: What impacts could that have on human health?
Brockovich: In drinking water, nitrates have been a problem from the beginning. Probably the first Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) in the Safe Drinking Water Act was about nitrate contamination. By far the biggest heath impacts will be from the thousands of Hazardous Algae Blooms (HABs) this will cause. HABs are known to cause upper respiratory distress, neurological disease and death. This is where we need to focus.
Urry: In general, what does the Clean Water Act mean for the health and safety of American citizens? How can it be protected from future whimsical political assaults?
Brockovich: People always confuse the Clean Water Act with the Safe Drinking Water Act — they are very separate laws. The Clean Water Act is about wastewater discharges, point and non-point is how they are regulated. A point source will still be extremely heavily regulated [under the new rules]; that would be a discharge from a factory or community sewer system.
The part of the regulation we are talking about here today is the non-point sources from agriculture, livestock farms and large landscaped areas like parks, malls, golf courses and parkways. The fertilizers and pesticides will be less regulated and drain into our waterways. There are scores of overlapping state, county and local regulations that do [already] regulate these activities. The focus of these rollbacks is predominately on the corporate farms.
Urry: How can we get off of this politically-driven seesaw battle, wherein one party tries to strengthen the Act, and when the other party gains power they try to strip away all the hard-fought gains?
Brockovich: People need to get educated. Regulatory agencies need to explain these problems as simple concepts. Remember what I said earlier: the Corps of Engineers struggled to understand implementation of the last set of regulations, so how are regular citizens supposed to?
We need to enforce common sense. When downstream waters become impaired because of these cuttings of regulations, locals must act — even if it requires litigation. Lake Okeechobee and Lake Erie come to mind as prime examples of how shit flows downhill.
Urry: In general should the Clean Water Act be strengthened, or does it just need better enforcement? If it needs augmentation, how specifically could the Act be upgraded to be more effective in protecting U.S. citizens?
Brockovich: Simple rule: mind your own business. If water discharges flow from your property and impact my property, you are violating my rights. If the chemicals you have applied to your property find their way into public waters and harm water quality, you’re going to get sued. Remember, we have three branches of government; we have our own state laws and regulations; when one gets out of whack use the others to fight the cause.
Right now, the executive branch is making points with Big Ag. The problem is, no one wants to do the heavy lifting — the real work — so, we have to do it ourselves. Superman is not coming. 99 percent of the population does not understand what has happened here. Frankly, I don’t believe the President even understands what has happened. Theses rollbacks were written by lobbyists and pushed by the EPA administrator based on promises he made. The President is clueless.
Urry: How do you think it is that Trump, or anyone in his administration for that matter, could actually want more deadly pollutants in the water supply?
Brockovich: I don’t really think he wants pollutants in our water sources. I think he is clueless and taking really bad advice.
Urry: Do they simply not understand the health implications, or is there a more sinister motive behind their actions?
Brockovich: It’s about money in politics. Big Ag paid for this batch of administration executives, and now they are cashing in. Until We the People tell them, “we know what’s up, and we won’t stand for it,” it will continue. You can’t fight what most of the people and the President don’t even understand in the first place. Most people believe the headlines they are reading today; the Trump Administration is allowing DuPont Chemical the right to dump chemicals into our water, and that just isn’t true.
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