Environmental Experts Criticize Trump Administration for Repealing Water Protections

By Ayana Byrd Jul 31, 2017

One month ago, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Army and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers took the first step to rescind the Clean Water Rule, also known as the Waters of the United States or WOTUS rule, via the release of a 42-page rule proposal. Now, economists and regulatory experts are going public with their belief that the economic analysis contained in the proposal is deeply flawed.

“I am not normally this dismissive, but this is the worst regulatory analysis I have ever seen,” David Sunding, a University of California-Berkeley agricultural economist who conducted an industry-funded economic analysis of the rule in 2014, said in an article published Thursday (July 27) in Bloomberg BNA.

The rule, enacted by former President Barack Obama, was created to better define what bodies of water the Clean Water Act protects. Its goal is to prevent pollution from entering smaller streams and rivers that feed into larger ones, in an effort to keep drinking water sources clean. According to The Guardian, if the rule were allowed to go into effect, it would protect the water of a third of U.S. residents, or roughly 100 million people.

As Colorlines previously reported, “People of color, including tribal communities, border communities and many living in rural areas, already disproportionately lack access to clean drinking water.”

Within five weeks of being in office, Trump signed a February 28 executive order directing the EPA to review the rule. According to ThinkProgress, “Repealing the rule has been a priority for industry—including manufacturing, fossil fuel,and big agriculture — which has argued the rule constitutes government overreach that would result in higher costs and more regulatory red-tape for businesses.”

In compliance, the Scott Pruitt-run agency issued the June proposal. Experts criticized its reliance on economic data from 2009 and 2010, years when the U.S. economy was in a significant recession.  

Others argue that the analysis only focuses on the costs—and not the benefits—of keeping the rule in place. For examples, wetlands, which are protected under the rule, are listed solely as a financial liability. “The Trump Administration is saying that those studies that indicate the benefit of wetlands are not reliable, so we’re just going to basically not have any accounting for any economic benefit of protecting wetlands,” John Rumpler, senior attorney for Environment America, told ThinkProgress. “Of course, that’s the most illogical and least science-based option you can imagine.”

These criticisms, however, could soon become a moot point. The House budget contains a rider which, if voted into law, would allow the Clean Water Rule to be repealed without any analysis.