President Donald Trump has signed an executive order to start rolling back a clean water rule finalized in 2015 to limit pollution in rivers, streams and wetlands — a rule that took years to put in place and involved extensive public and stakeholder input.
The rule was established under the Clean Water Act after two Supreme Court rulings created confusion about protection for streams and wetlands and left hundreds of pollution enforcement cases hanging. The rule was intended to provide clarity about which waters are protected.
Supporters, like the National Wildlife Federation and the Izaak Walton League, say it was based on the best available science and on more than a million comments from stakeholders and the public. But the oil and gas industry and farming groups objected.
The rule has been tied up in the courts ever since. Now the Environmental Protection Agency is being directed to rewrite it. Jeff Reardon of the Maine Council of Trout Unlimited says that’s a setback.
“I mean we just see this as moving backwards. I’m just about to turn 50 so I don’t remember the worst of it in the ’60s, but I remember the ‘No Swimming’ signs up and down Maine rivers in the ’70s and have seen the changes, and we don’t want to start the ball rolling back downhill. That’s just not the direction we ought to be going in,” he says.
Reardon says depending on the watershed, at least 13 percent of stream miles are affected in Maine. If they get degraded, not only could fish populations be lost downstream but drinking water could also be affected.
This story is made possible by a grant from the Doree Taylor Charitable Foundation.