Clean Water Crucible: Woe to WOTUS

Wildlife at Wetlands

The Trump effort to slash the scope of Clean Water Act protections is meant to be a developer’s dream but it is an ecological nightmare, jeopardizing the drinking water sources for millions of Americans, weakening flood control, and degrading aquatic habitats.

Like his wish to repeal and replace Obamacare, President Trump wants to repeal President Obama’s 2015 “Waters of the United States” (WOTUS) rule which would increase the extent of waters by between 3 to 5 percent. Per a Trump Executive Order, Step 2 is a new rule “consistent with the opinion of Justice Antonin Scalia” in his 2006 dissenting opinion limiting Clean Water Act jurisdiction to waters that are “navigable.” 

Under Trump’s plan

  • As much as 60% of U.S. waters and wetlands, and up to 90% in the arid West, would no longer be protected under the Scalia approach
  • Most Americans get their drinking water from sources that would have no legal protection under the Clean Water Act; 
  • Ceding clean water primacy to the states and tribes would be disastrous because these governments lack the resources to protect the waters that would be abandoned.

This plan is premised on the preposterous notion that wetlands have no – as in zero – economic benefit, a proposition that flies in the face of every scientific and economic article written about wetlands valuation.

Every previous modern president of both parties have extolled the importance of protecting wetlands. By contrast, Trump has denigrated the policies of his predecessors, claiming they protect puddles and ditches even though both are explicitly excluded from WOTUS. 

We have just had a series of devastating hurricanes whose havoc was heightened by the loss of wetland buffers. Unfortunately, the U.S. now has a developer president who knows the price of everything but the value of nothing.