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Learn how changes to the Clean Water Act could hurt your region before it’s too late

Apr 15th 2019

The Environmental Protection Agency has made moves to shrink national water protections for two years. In July 2017, the EPA and Army Corps formally proposed rescinding the Clean Water Rule; a proposal that has not yet been finalized. Then in February 2018, the agencies suspended the Clean Water Rule until February 2020. Now, it’s go time: The administration is proposing revisions to the Clean Water Act, introduced in 1972 as a way to curb widespread pollution in United States waterways. The would-be replacement is rife with rollbacks that would affect every American. Lawmakers, scientists, and the general public have until April 15 to submit comments on the proposed changes, so we’ve compiled a list of threatened waterways in each region to help inform your feedback. Scroll through and find the Environmental Protection Agency Region to which your state belongs. But first, some background:

What is the Clean Water Act?

The Clean Water Act requires anyone who wishes to conduct business that could pollute waters of the United States (WOTUS) to first apply for a permit. A 2015 addition to the act, called the Clean Water Rule, expanded this red tape to some temporary (meaning they don’t flow year-round) and isolated (meaning they aren’t visibly connected to another body) waterways. The Trump Administration has already suspended the Clean Water Rule and wants to permanently kill it, as well as some protections that were in place before 2015. They can do this by redefining what counts as “waters of the United States.”

This definition determines which waterways the federal government regulates under the Clean Water Act. Suspending the Clean Water Rule would make it easier for industries and cities to pollute small or visually isolated water bodies. For example, under the new rule, you still could not dump toxic waste into the Mississippi River. But you could dump it in some smaller streams or wetlands, even if they provided crucial habitats to certain animals or could indirectly contaminate sources of drinking water.

Proponents of the new definition say the Clean Water Rule is the product of government overreach, that it hurts the economy, and that the new regulations would simply clarify which waters are and are not included. Opponents say removing these baseline protections would have consequences and would undermine the 1,200 science studies that informed the Clean Water Rule. “In providing this clarity from the onset, it removes Washington bureaucrats from making ambiguous decisions on land which they aren’t familiar with, as landowners are,” the EPA’s website claims.

But without the baseline protections the new definition cuts out, it will be nearly impossible to keep interstate waters clean; every state has different local regulations. Local waters in states that adhere to federal government standards and nothing more would be hit the hardest, but that pollution would spread downstream, across state lines, and into larger rivers, estuaries, and lakes.

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