Waters at Risk? EPA Will Revoke the Clean Waters Act of 1972

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), under the direction of the Trump administration, will revoke a rule that gives the agency broad authority over regulating the pollution of tributaries and wetlands that flow into the country’s largest rivers. [1]

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt told Congress on June 27, 2017, that the agency would “provide clarity” by “withdrawing” the rule, and follow standards set in 2008. Pruitt had previously said he would recuse himself from working on litigation to the rule.

Said Pruitt:

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

During his testimony, Pruitt told senators that the Obama-era rule:

“… created a situation where farmers and ranchers, landowners across the country did not know whether their stream or dry creek bed, in some instances, was actually subject … to EPA jurisdiction and EPA authority.”

He added that:

“… they were facing fines that were substantial as they engaged in earth work to build subdivisions – I mean, it was something that created a substantial amount of uncertainty and confusion.” [2]

The Clean Waters Act was last updated in 2015 to define waterways – including streams, rivers, and other bodies – the federal government can regulate, thus expanding protection for 2 million miles of streams and 20 acres of wetlands, and drawing the ire of the agriculture and energy industries.

Read: Uh-Oh: House Passes Bill Nicknamed “Poison Our Waters Act”

That year, the rule was delayed by a federal appeals court, after 13 states filed a lawsuit against the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers. It remains on hold while the case works its way through the courts.

In February 2017, President Trump said during the signing of an executive order calling for a review of the Clean Waters Act that it should apply only to navigable waters that impact interstate commerce. The decision would put at risk the drinking water sources of 1 in 3 Americans. [2] [3]


Environmental groups say rolling back the rule will put the Midwestern Great Lakes region at risk, and lead to pollution in some of the nation’s most sensitive wetland areas.

Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, said:

“This foolish rollback of clean water standards rejects years of work building stakeholder input and scientific data support, and it imperils the progress for safe clean drinking water in the Midwest.” [2]

Read: Trump Freezes EPA Grants, Orders Media Blackout

Kierán Suckling, executive director at the Center for Biological Diversity, added:

“Revoking the clean water rule will open the door to the pollution and bulldozing of some of America’s most important wetlands.”

So far, the Trump administration has received an astounding 500,000 comments, including numerous requests to preserve the existing regulation.

Following the public comment period, and after reaching a final decision, the EPA will have to author its own proposed rule for designing which waters should be federally protected under the 1972 law.

Environmental and conservation groups have vowed to fight the repeal.

Michael Brune, executive director of Sierra Club, said in a statement:

“It goes without saying that the Trump administration doesn’t care about the environment, public health, or its duty to protect our most precious natural resources?—?and that is why it’s up to us, the American people, to hold them accountable. We will fight this and every other attempt by polluters and the Trump administration to destroy our water resources.” [3]


[1] The Washington Post

[2] Reuters

[3] Think Progress

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Uh Oh: House Passes Bill Nicknamed “Poison Our Waters Act”

On May 24, 2017, the House passed a measure reversing an EPA requirement that those spraying pesticides on or near rivers and lakes file for a permit. Opponents are referring to the legislation as the “Poison Our Waters Act.” The bill’s real name is the “Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act of 2017.” [1]

The permitting system for the use of pesticides under the Clean Water Act was redundant, according to Rep. Bob Gibbs, a Republican from Ohio, who added that the bill will protect farmers, ranchers, and local pest control agencies from regulatory burdens. He says:

“This is important legislation that fixes a bad court decision requiring a costly, unnecessary, and duplicative permit when cities and municipalities use pesticides already approved and regulated by the EPA for mosquito abatement. It’s just another layer of red tape that diverts resources from their mission of protecting the public from insect-borne diseases.”

Under the act, anyone applying a pesticide approved by the EPA under the Federal Insecticide Fungicide and Rodenticide Act would no longer need to acquire a Clean Water Act “general permit” for their activities.

The Clean Water Act had the biggest impact on the largest-volume applicators. Most of the pesticide applicators can obtain a permit with minimal restrictions on spraying.

According to the group Beyond Pesticides, signing the Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act into law would:

  • Undermine federal authority to protect the U.S. waters under the Clean Water Act
  • Allow spraying of toxic chemicals into waterways without local and state oversight
  • Contaminate drinking water sources and harm aquatic life
  • Not reduce claimed burdens to farmers, as there currently are no burdens
Source: U.S. Geological Survey – How pesticides make their way into drinking water in agricultural areas

Beyond Pesticides says that, contrary to the bill’s backers’ claims that the permit requirements place unnecessary burdens on farmers, the reality of the situation is that most pesticide applicators can easily obtain a permit with little restriction, and agricultural activities are exempt from the requirement. [3]

In truth, according to the group, the bill would remove Americans’ right to know what chemicals are entering the nation’s waterways.

Mae Wu, senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council’s health program, said in a statement:

“This bill takes away the public’s right to know about toxic pesticides we may be exposed to. It eliminates the current commonsense requirement that communities should have access to basic information about what’s being sprayed in waters that can pose risks for public health.”

Our Water is Already Contaminated

The environmental group Earthjustice states that nearly 2,000 U.S. waterways do not meet water quality standards because of pesticide contamination. In fact, a U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) report from 2014 revealed pesticide levels continue to threaten aquatic life in many of the nation’s rivers and streams in agricultural and urban areas.

The study found pesticides and their breakdown products in U.S. streams more than 90% of the time. Water contaminants, such as atrazine, metolachlor, and simazine are still being detected in streams over 50% of the time. Fipronil is the pesticide most frequently found at levels deemed potentially hazardous to aquatic organisms in urban streams.

Additionally, a 2015 USGS report showed that neonicotinioid insecticides contaminate more than half of urban and agricultural streams across the U.S. and Puerto Rico.

Read: Pesticides Known to Kill Bees Found in U.S. Drinking Water

Marjorie Mullhall, Earthjustice’s senior legislative counsel, says:

“To get to the bottom of and address this pesticide pollution, we need to know what is causing it?—?but this bill does the exact opposite, making it harder to keep our communities safe and putting people’s health at risk.” [2]

Republicans attempted to use the Zika virus emergency last year as a scare tactic to enact the legislation into through its Zika Vector Control Act, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.

Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity, says:

“A day after the Trump administration’s budget proposed eviscerating the EPA, the House voted to begin making that vision a reality.

This dangerous loophole would benefit pesticide giants like Dow Chemical and leave the rest of us totally unaware of toxic chemicals going into our rivers and lakes.”

It does indeed appear that the act would benefit pesticide makers and not farmers. Ken Kopocis, EPA’s deputy assistant administrator for water, said at a 2015 congressional hearing that the EPA had not been made aware of any issues associated with the pesticide general permit system. No one had been kept from applying a pesticide in a timely manner.


[1] Chem.info

[2] Think Progress

[3] Beyond Pesticides

U.S. Geological Survey

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