EPA Moves to Rollback Clean Water Protections

Today, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt announced the agency is moving forward with a rule to rescind the 2015 Clean Water Rule. The Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed, led by New Jersey Audubon and National Wildlife Federation, and its partners are deeply dismayed by this action. Repealing the Clean Water Rule threatens the water resources of the entire nation, including the Delaware River Watershed, which supplies clean and reliable drinking water to over 15 million people.

 “We all depend on clean water and wetlands – whether its water for our families, small business owners, or hunters and anglers – and the repeal of the Clean Water Rule threatens the vitality of our communities and economy,” said Maddy Urbish, Director of the Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed at New Jersey Audubon.

Photograph by Nicholas A. Tonelli

Photograph by Nicholas A. Tonelli

The Clean Water Rule was adopted by the EPA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in May 2015 to clarify longstanding confusion over which water bodies are protected by the landmark Clean Water Act. The rule more clearly defined what kinds of waters are protected and which ones are exempt. Before finalizing the rule in 2015, the EPA and Army Corps held more than 400 meetings with stakeholders across the country and incorporated over one million comments, 87% of which were supportive of the rule.

“The streams and wetlands the Clean Water Rule protects are essential - for drinking water and the natural infrastructure that small businesses and communities rely on. We should be doing more, not less to protect clean water,” remarked Josh McNeil, Executive Director of Conservation Voters.

Healthy wetlands and headwater streams provide the clean, cool flows and essential habitat for fish and wildlife populations that are essential for a thriving economy. Every year, 47 million Americans engage in fishing and hunting, supporting an industry valued at over $200 billion that sustains 1.5 million American jobs. Additionally, wetlands covering 110 million acres across the continental U.S. perform critical functions including filtering pollution from contaminated runoff, recharging groundwater supplies, and preventing serious flooding.

“The Clean Water Rule is a commonsense safeguard for streams and communities throughout New Jersey. It protects our drinking water and the wetlands we need to filter pollutants and provide vital habitat for wildlife.” remarked Eric Stiles, President and CEO of New Jersey Audubon. “A repeal of this rule flies in the face of science and will hurt our wildlife and economy.”

Along with supplying five percent of the U.S. population with drinking water, the Delaware River Watershed supports over $25 billion in direct annual economic activity, including a thriving recreation industry, a strong agricultural sector, and a nationally significant port system. It also provides over $21 billion in ecosystem services such as carbon sequestration and water filtration. Lacking clear and understandable protection under the Clean Water Rule puts these vital resources at risk.

Brenna Goggin, Director of Advocacy for Delaware Nature Society added, “To ensure all Americans have access to reliable, drinkable, clean water, the EPA and Army Corps must use the best available science on the ecological functions and connectivity of the nation’s waters to develop and implement rules for protecting them through the Clean Water Act.”

Repealing the 2015 Clean Water Rule and gutting protections that have prevented the pollution of the nation’s waterways for decades is a huge step backwards, and the Coalition urges the EPA and Army Corps to reverse course and focus on providing strong protections for our water resources.