The Trump Administration last week continued its assault on clean water protections, as the EPA finalized a rule that curtails the power of states and tribes to protect local rivers, wetlands, streams, lakes, and the Great Lakes themselves, from pollution. The rule strips decision-making authority from local communities in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York—leaving them more vulnerable to pollution.
Laura Rubin, director of the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition, said:
“The Trump Administration’s actions make it painfully clear that it does not care about clean water, healthy communities, and, ultimately, the Great Lakes. With many of our towns and cities still living with unsafe drinking water, now is not the time to cut back on clean water enforcement. We need more – not less – protection for clean water. We urge the EPA to withdraw its proposal and work cooperatively with local communities, states and tribes to protect our waters that we depend on for drinking water, public health, jobs, and our quality of life.”
The Coalition is not alone in its opposition. Last year, Govs. Tony Evers (Wisconsin), J. B. Pritzker (Illinois), Tim Walz (Minnesota), Gretchen Whitmer (Michigan), and Tom Wolf (Pennsylvania) opposed the Trump Administration’s attack on local waters, writing to EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler: “We strongly oppose any attempt by this administration to undermine state authority and ability to enforce water quality standards. We remain committed to do what is necessary to protect sources of drinking water, public health and our environment. The residents of our states deserve to have this critical work continue unimpeded. We urge this administration to reconsider this executive order and respect the rights of states to protect our waters.”
Under current law, any project—such as a new pipeline or industrial facility—that could discharge pollution into waters of the United States must receive a federal permit. Historically, local communities have been able to have a voice in assessing whether the project can go forward as planned, whether it needs to make adjustments to account for potential environmental damage, or, in some cases, whether the project must be abandoned because it cannot meet local water and environmental standards. In the last few years, communities have used their authority to protect their waters from harmful pollution that coal terminals, liquefied natural gas export facilities, and pipelines discharge into vital streams and bodies of water.
The Trump Administration’s decision to strip states and tribes of decision-making authority makes it much harder—if not impossible—for local communities to protect local rivers, lakes, streams and other waters that they depend on for drinking water, recreation, and jobs.
The Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition strongly opposed the move when it was announced, provided comment opposing the rule change, and urged the EPA to reconsider.
The Trump Administration’s disregard of local community input and oversight in local permitting decisions (known as Clean Water Act 401 certification process) comes on the heels of another sweeping rollback of clean water protections for streams and wetlands by the Trump Administration. The moves will further endanger waters that our communities depend on for drinking water, fish and wildlife habitat, recreation, and more.
The Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition is committed to opposing attacks on clean water protections. To protect and restore the Great Lakes and local rivers, lakes, streams, and wetlands, it will take both robust federal investments and strong clean water protections.
To that end, the Trump Administration’s recent professed support for the Great Lakes through federal funding via the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative cannot erase a horrendous track record of eviscerating bedrock environmental protections that protect the air we breathe and the water we drink and are essential to protect the health of children and families—especially those in communities that have historically borne the brunt of environmental injustice, such as people of color, tribes, rural communities, and under-resourced communities.
The bottom line is that everybody has to do their part to protect the Great Lakes from pollution and degradation. Giving the green light to polluters to pollute more, taking away the voice of local communities in decision-making, and then making citizens pay for the cost of cleanup is not a vision of Great Lakes restoration that we support. It is ineffective, counterproductive, and undermines our progress, because it means that as we take one step forward, we are taking two steps backward.