According to a Tuesday statement by Administrator Scott Pruitt, the Environmental Protection Agency aims to rescind a clean water rule from the Obama administration which attempts to limit the amount of pollution in about 60 percent of the U.S.'s natural bodies of water. Critics have warned that this could jeopardize the progress toward safe and clean drinking water in parts of the country.
"We are taking significant action to return power to the states and provide regulatory certainty to our nation's farmers and businesses," said Pruitt. "This is the first step in the two-step process to redefine 'waters of the U.S.' and we are committed to moving through this re-evaluation to quickly provide regulatory certainty, in a way that is thoughtful, transparent and collaborative with other agencies and the public."
The Waters of the United States Rule, which was implemented during Obama's presidency, has been hotly contested ever since it was ordered in 2015. Environmentalists have hailed the rule as a necessary protection. Business leaders, however, see it as unnecessary regulation that could cut into their profits. The Obama rule has not taken effect yet, though, as it was held up by the courts shortly after the regulation was announced.
“This rule will provide the clarity and certainty businesses and industry need about which waters are protected by the Clean Water Act, and it will ensure polluters who knowingly threaten our waters can be held accountable,” then-President Obama said in a statement at the time, according to Politico.
Environmental activists were dismayed by Pruitt's announcement. "This proposal strikes directly at public health," said Rhea Suh, the president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, told the New York Times. "It would strip out needed protections for the streams that feed drinking water sources for one in every three Americans. Clean water is too important for that. We’ll stand up to this reckless attack on our waters and health."
Other activists said that the rolling back the rule, though it hasn't taken effect yet technically, could have devastating effects for future generations. "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,” said Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, according to Reuters.
However, it's important to note that Pruitt's statement is just a preliminary move, and potential lawsuits must wait until the rule is finalized, a process which could take as long as a few years. Nonetheless, activist groups said they're ready for a fight. “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,” Michael Brune, executive director of Sierra Club, according to Think Progress. “We will fight this and every other attempt by polluters and the Trump administration to destroy our water resources.”